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Trump’s lawyers battle in court over House Democrats’ Mazars subpoena


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Trump Tower represented the pinnacle of luxury living, but now it reportedly ranks as one of the least desirable luxury properties in Manhattan.
Buzz60WASHINGTON – Lawyers for President Donald Trump and the House clashed Tuesday in federal court over the extent of Congress’ power to investigate him in the first legal test of Trump’s effort to block sprawling probes of his finances and private business.Trump wants a judge to prevent a congressional committee from obtaining financial records from his longtime accountant, Mazars USA. It is the first court test of how much information the half-dozen committees conducting investigations of Trump and his businesses might be able to obtain. Trump and his namesake businesses filed a lawsuit last month asking U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta to revoke a subpoena issued by the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Trump’s lawyers accused the Democratic-controlled committee of abusing their power and said there was no legislative purpose for the request. Mehta cited three possible reasons Tuesday to block the subpoena: that Congress has no general authority to investigate the president’s private life, that it can’t investigate for the sake of exposure and that Congress can’t encroach on the powers of the other two branches.Mehta didn’t indicate whether he found those reasons sufficiently persuasive to block the House subpoena. But he suggested history might not be on the president’s side, saying courts had not found that Congress overstepped its subpoena authority since 1880 and questioning Trump’s lawyers about the basis for previous investigations of presidents. Trump’s personal lawyer, William Consovoy, argued repeatedly that Congress was seeking the president’s financial information for what is essentially a law-enforcement purpose – which was outside its authority – rather to work on legislation. The subpoena sought Trump’s financial records to look for inconsistencies in his financial disclosure forms, and whether he misstated his holdings for loans that could leave him beholden to foreigners.“That is law enforcement,” Consovoy said. “Are you complying with federal law?”At one point, Mehta asked if Congress could investigate if the president was engaged in corrupt behavior in office.“I don’t think that’s the proper subject of investigation as to the president,” Consovoy said, although executive agencies could be investigated.Mehta sounded incredulous, asking whether Congress could have investigated Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, and Whitewater, which led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Consovoy initially said he’d had to look at the basis for those investigations.“They were inquiring as to violations of criminal law,” Mehta said. “It’s pretty straightforward – among other things.”Consovoy said the question is whether the legislation the committee cited was a valid reason for the subpoena.“That is still law enforcement,” Consovoy said.But Douglas Letter, the general counsel for the House, argued that Congress has broad investigative authority.“His main client, President Trump, has taken the position really that Congress and particularly the House of Representatives is a nuisance and we’re just getting in his way when he’s trying to run the country,” Letter said. “The problem with that is that this is a total and basic and fundamental misunderstanding of the system that is set up by the Constitution.”Letter acknowledged under questioning by Mehta that hypothetically Congress might overstep by asking for the president’s blood or for his diary as a 7-year-old. But Letter said Trump’s lawsuit is so far outside the bounds of past Supreme Court decisions that he has “no chance for success” and urged a quick decision in the case because of Congress’s limited term.“These are totally legitimate things for Congress to look into,” Letter said.Letter said any delay in the decision in the case would undermine the House’s authority to pursue investigations.“President Trump has no chance of success here on the merits of his claim,” Letter said. “His claim is so far outside what the Supreme Court has ruled that there is no chance for success.”Consovoy replied that limiting Congress’ power only when it pries so deeply as to seek presidential blood or a childhood diary is “unbridled.””That’s simply unimaginable,” he said.Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)Mehta said at the start of the hearing that he wouldn’t rule right away, but would try to do so quickly. He said he would give both sides until Saturday to submit additional information. Another subpoena case between Trump and Congress is scheduled to be heard next week in federal court in New York.“I think this has been fully and exhaustively argued today,” Mehta said. “I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”The lawsuit is the latest salvo in a series of investigations that are continuing into Trump and his businesses in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. That probe ended without a finding that Trump had committed a crime, but federal prosecutors and congressional committees are conducting a variety of separate investigations of the president and his businesses.The House Judiciary Committee held Attorney General William Barr in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena for Mueller’s unredacted report and its underlying evidence, a prelude to pursuing the documents in court. The House Ways and Means Committee subpoenaed Trump’s tax records. The House Intelligence and Financial Services committees jointly subpoenaed Trump’s business records from Deutsche Bank. And the Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., as part of its Russia inquiry.Trump’s central argument in trying to block access to the Mazars documents is that congressional oversight applies only to the development of legislation. Without any legislative purpose, Trump contends the committee’s request represents political warfare.“The Democrat Party, with its newfound control of the U.S. House of Representatives, has declared all-out political war against President Donald J. Trump. Subpoenas are their weapon of choice,” the president’s lawsuit said. “There is no possible legislation at the end of the tunnel.”Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has said the committee sought Trump’s financial documents to determine whether Trump has accurately reported his own finances. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who entered prison for three years this month for crimes including lying to Congress, told the committee in February that Trump routinely inflated his holdings to obtain loans and reduced his estimates to avoid real-estate taxes.“Trump’s attacks on the committee’s investigations amount to nothing more than political histrionics and hyperbole,” the committee said in its reply to the lawsuit.The committee argued that it was investigating numerous constitutional, conflict of interest and ethical questions. For example, the committee noted $75 million in debt connected to Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago and $50 million in assets of Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. Those figures were listed in Trump’s government financial-disclosure forms beginning in 2015, but not in a 2012 statement from Mazars that Cohen provided the committee, according to the committee response.The committee said its legislative jurisdiction includes the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, “which requires federal officials to publicly disclose financial liabilities that could affect their decision-making,” and legislation the House approved this year called HR 1, which would require the president to “divest of all financial interests that post a conflict of interest.”Consovoy argued that at least HR 1 was unconstitutional because of the demands it put on the president, and shouldn’t be considered justification for the subpoena.More about President Donald Trump’s legal battles with Congress: President Trump and his businesses ask a court to block Congress from obtaining accounting records’Slow-motion constitutional car crash’: Trump, Congress battle over investigations with no end in sightPresident Trump still facing swirl of investigations even after Robert Mueller’s probe has endedLike what you’re reading?: Download the USA TODAY app for moreAutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/14/president-trump-fight-congressional-subpoena-financial-records-mazars-court-hearing/1187746001/

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