Judge signals swift ruling in Trump lawsuit over Cummings subpoena
A federal judge on Tuesday gave lawyers for President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawsuit alleges Trump campaign paid women less than men Graham encourages Donald Trump Jr. to plead the 5th Crunch time for Senate disaster aid talks MORE and Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee until the end of the week to make their final arguments on whether the court should uphold a subpoena requesting Trump’s private financial records.
District Judge Amit Mehta, during the first court hearing in D.C. over the subpoena issued by Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsTrump attorneys protest judge’s effort to expedite congressional subpoena lawsuit Retired Justice Stevens: Trump ‘exercising powers that do not really belong to him’ House Dems allege Trump subpoena lawsuit is stonewalling ‘legitimate’ congressional probes MORE (D-Md.) for records from the accounting firm Mazars, said he considers the matter to be “fully exhausted” after hearing arguments from attorneys on both sides.
And he promised to quickly issue a ruling on the matter.
Attorneys for Trump and his businesses argued that the House committee had no standing to issue the subpoena, describing the request for documents as “law enforcement” and going beyond Congress’s authorities.
Trump lawyer William Consovoy said that investigating the president for potential wrongdoing was outside of Congress’s constitutional bounds, reiterating an argument that all congressional probes should be tied to legislation.
But Mehta pushed back against some of Consovoy’s remarks by pointing to investigations like Watergate that weren’t tied to specific bills.
“You mean to tell me that because he is the president of the United States, Congress would have no ability to investigate?” Mehta said, referring to Trump.
The judge also pressed Douglas Letter, general counsel for the House of Representatives, over the scope of the Oversight committee’s investigation.
Attorneys for Trump have argued that the subpoena is part of a fishing expedition by Democrats to find damaging information about the president ahead of the 2020 election.
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Mehta told Letter that it has been “bothering” him that the committee hasn’t issued a statement on the exact scope of the probe, as other panels have done in the past.
“It really does open the door, it seems to me, to the accusation … that this really is sort of an effort to not harass the president, but get into his private affairs for political purposes,” the judge said.
Letter pointed to communications issued by Cummings regarding the subpoena that cited testimony from ex-Trump attorney Michael CohenMichael Dean Cohen Graham encourages Donald Trump Jr. to plead the 5th Feds ask judge to postpone ex-Trump campaign aide’s sentencing Rand Paul: Trump Jr. subpoena a ‘real travesty of justice’ MORE alleging that Trump inflated his personal wealth for years. Cummings has said the subpoena was issued to determine if that was the case.
Mehta asked Letter how the subpoena, which requested financial documents preceding Trump’s time in office, could be considered a valid use of Congress’s investigatory powers.
Letter replied that Trump has continued to benefit from his private businesses while in office. And he said that the records may reveal that another party, like a foreign government, has knowledge of wrongdoing by the president that they could use as leverage against him.
In one notable exchange, Mehta asked the House counsel if there was anything pertaining to the president that the committee could not subpoena.
Letter conjured up several hypothetical subpoenas that he thought might not stand up in court, like requesting the president’s blood for a blood test, or his diary from when he was 7 years old.
“That would probably stretch my arguments to the breaking point,” Letter added.
He also pushed back on a supposed memorandum of understanding between the House Oversight, Intelligence and Financial Services committees for the sharing of documents obtained through subpoenas that has been referenced in filings from Trump’s lawyers, saying no such documents exists.
But he did say there was an agreement between the Oversight and Financial Services committees relating to a separate document request and that lawmakers did not want to make it public.
Mehta ordered that the document be filed under seal to him by Thursday so he can rule on whether to share it with Trump’s legal team.
Consovoy indicated during the court proceedings that Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanLive coverage: House panel moves forward with Barr contempt vote Rising debt imperils Trump, Dem hopes on infrastructure The Hill’s Morning Report – Barr stiff-arms House following Senate grilling MORE (R-Ohio), the ranking member of the Oversight committee, also had a copy of the document. The attorney said Trump’s legal team would request that Jordan turn it over to them.
Mehta did not signal how he intends to rule, but he made clear that he did not plan on issuing an order that would strike down Congress’s constitutional authorities, including its ability to investigate.
“I cannot imagine that I’m supposed to write an opinion — if it ends up in your favor — that knocks down the constitutionality” of how Congress can conduct investigations, Mehta told Consovoy.
An attorney from Mazars was present during the hearing but did not speak beyond introducing himself to the court. The accounting firm has indicated it doesn’t intend on fully participating in the lawsuit, as it believes the dispute is between the president and Congress.
Trump’s lawsuit seeking to block the congressional subpoena is one of a pair filed by Trump’s lawyers in federal court. The president has promised to fight “all the subpoenas” issued by House Democrats as part of their sweeping probes into Trump, his businesses and his family.
His attorneys are arguing in the Southern District of New York that congressional subpoenas issued to Capital One and Deutsche Bank by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDems warn of ‘constitutional crisis’ but wary of impeachment Schiff: Trump ‘has to be defeated’ in 2020 Schiff dismisses Trump’s threat to investigate Biden MORE (D-Calif.) and Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersRetired Justice Stevens: Trump ‘exercising powers that do not really belong to him’ House Dems allege Trump subpoena lawsuit is stonewalling ‘legitimate’ congressional probes Judge sets Trump lawsuit over congressional subpoenas on track for quick decision MORE (D-Calif.) are similarly overbroad.
Trump, his family and his private businesses are involved in that suit. A judge is scheduled to hear arguments in that case next Wednesday.