Trump takes fight with Dems to the courts
President TrumpDonald John TrumpKamala Harris: Barr ‘lied to Congress’ Trump to Palestinians in Gaza: ‘End the violence and work towards peace’ O’Rourke: Mueller report affirmed need for impeachment against Trump MORE is leaning on a tried and tested personal strategy in his fight with Congress, moving the battle to the courts.
The courts have long been Trump’s preferred battleground, with the president and his businesses involved in a slew of cases over the years. Now he’s taking that approach to fight back against House Democrats.
The president and his private businesses filed a pair of recent lawsuits challenging congressional subpoenas seeking Trump’s financial records, as well as those of this family.
Experts predict a messy legal battle involving all three branches of the government. And it’s sure to be a drawn-out and complicated process, as the judges involved will likely seek to avoid politicizing the role of the courts in an inherently political fight.
The lawsuits are part of the president’s vow to fight any subpoenas issued by House Democrats in the course of their myriad investigations into Trump, his family and businesses.
Attorneys for Trump and the businesses argue in both lawsuits filed last month that the requests for financial documents are an overreach of Congress’s powers, and that they don’t fall under lawmakers’ legislative authorities.
But legal experts are doubtful that those arguments would stand up in court, as Congress doesn’t need a legislative purpose in order to conduct oversight.
“I don’t even know what to make of it,” Mitchel Sollenberger, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said of the Trump legal argument. “It doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.”
The Democratic chairs behind the subpoenas – Reps. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsTrump takes fight with Dems to the courts Trump attorneys request preliminary injunction over subpoenas for financial records Memo: Ex-White House official testified no one influenced decisions on security clearances MORE (Md.), Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersTrump takes fight with Dems to the courts Trump attorneys request preliminary injunction over subpoenas for financial records On The Money: US adds 263K jobs in April, crushing expectations | Warren, Dems call for probe of tax-prep companies | Biden faces dilemma from K Street allies MORE (Calif.) and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump takes fight with Dems to the courts Trump attorneys request preliminary injunction over subpoenas for financial records Dems go after Barr’s head MORE (Calif.) — have all characterized the lawsuits as merely an attempt to stonewall the congressional investigations.
Cummings is seeking financial records from the accounting firm Mazars, while Waters and Schiff have made similar requests from Capital One and Deutsche Bank.
The lawmakers say the subpoenas are typical of congressional investigations. But Trump’s attorneys are casting the requests as fishing expeditions for any damaging information that politicians could use ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
These recent challenges are in character for Trump, who during the course of his real estate career repeatedly used the courts or threats of legal action to try to shield his business interests.
The congressional requests for financial records pertaining to him, his companies and his family members hit him in a soft spot, as Trump has been fiercely protective of his private businesses.
The White House has made clear that it will not cooperate with any congressional inquiries after the conclusion of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s probe, which did not find evidence of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Trump has vowed to fight “all the subpoenas.” But Democrats have promised to fight back over the White House’s refusal to cooperate in the investigations.
“When the president denies the Congress documents and access to key witnesses, basically what they’re doing is saying, ‘Congress you don’t count,’ ” Cummings told reporters Thursday. “You have no ability to do your job under the Constitution, and act as a check and balance on the executive branch.”
Cummings said that the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which he chairs, would sit down with “some of the best legal minds that we have” to determine their options going forward.
Even if a judge decides to reject the president’s argument in the current lawsuits, the legal battle is unlikely to end there. Each side is sure to appeal any ruling that’s not in their favor.
The president’s attorneys indicated as much in a court filing in the Deutsche Bank case on Friday, saying they would be willing to appeal to higher courts if they’re not granted a preliminary injunction.
“They’re going to be in it to win it,” Thomas Spulak, who served as general counsel to the Democratic-controlled House from 1994 to 1995, said of House Democrats.
But a drawn-out court battle could ultimately end up playing in Trump’s advantage.
Saikrishna Prakash, a law professor at the University of Virginia, said the longer the legal fight drags out, the less likely the investigation will reach its conclusion.
He said that the probes are likely to be dropped if Democrats lose the House in 2020 or if Trump loses reelection, rendering the legal fights unnecessary.
The strategy appears to have already yielded some results: Attorneys for Trump said in a court filing this week that both Capital One and Deutsche Bank had agreed to not hand over any documents to congressional investigators until a judge makes a ruling on whether or not to issue a preliminary injunction in the case.
“I think the president and his legal team want to stretch out the legal fight for as long as possible because delay favors the president,” Prakash said.
Experts also told The Hill that the judges involved are likely to request that the two parties attempt to resolve the issue between themselves, rather than require them to make a ruling.
Spulak said courts “are loathe” to get involved in the more political cases because they don’t want to appear to be saying that one branch of the government — including their own — has more authority than the others.
An amicable resolution between the Democratic-led committees and the president is unlikely to happen, as both sides are digging in their heels.
The legal situation is also generally uncharted territory. Instead of forcing House Democrats to go to court after the administration asserts executive privilege or otherwise refuse to hand over documents, the president’s private lawyers are making the first move.
Experts have also pointed to the existence of multiple lawsuits filed in a brief period of time as being unusual, and an indication that similar legal challenges could be coming down the line.
Sollenberger said he hoped that the judges involved in the cases, even when faced with an unusual set of circumstances, would base their rulings on the facts of the case and not the political implications.
He suggested that courts could rule for the Trump documents to be handed over.
“I think there’s pretty substantial evidence in history that we tend to err on the side of transparency more than anything else,” Sollenberger said.
Updated May 4, 8:45 a.m.