By Katelyn Polantz and Tierney Sneed, CNN
Updated: Wed, 11 Aug 2021 20:10:54 GMT
The US House should be able to access some of Donald Trump's tax records through a subpoena to his accounting firm Mazars USA, a federal judge in Washington, DC, ruled on Wednesday.
The ruling is a resounding loss for Trump, given that the accounting records appear to cover financial information that the former President has fiercely protected.
It is a major step toward resolving the long-running fight over access to Trump's tax records. Trump has been able to delay the subpoena by taking the case to court, appealing all the way to the Supreme Court. That legal fight has lasted more than two years.
The case is a continuation of the House tax returns case that traveled up to the Supreme Court. Now, District Judge Amit Mehta has weighed the House request for Trump's financial records against the standards laid out by the Supreme Court in its 7-2 ruling last year.
With that Supreme Court opinion in mind, Mehta upheld the parts of the House subpoena that were targeted at the lawmakers' stated need for considering legislation around Foreign Emoluments Clause issues and the General Services Administration's lease with the Trump hotel at the Old Post Office building in Washington. The committee also can access some financial documents from 2017 and 2018, Mehta decided.
Mehta ruled that the subpoena of Mazars in some ways should be treated like any subpoena it issues, especially as the committee investigates Trump's Washington, DC, hotel lease with the federal government.
"The Committee has presented 'detailed and substantial' evidence that President Trump, at least through his business interests, likely received foreign payments during the term of his presidency," Mehta wrote regarding the Emoluments Clause, which bars the acceptance of gifts from foreign nations without congressional approval. The judge noted the Trump Organization gave to the Treasury Department more than $400,000 in payments during Trump's presidency, "validating the Committee's belief that President Trump's business received some foreign payments during his presidency."
"The Committee therefore is not engaged in a baseless fishing expedition."
But Mehta said the committee couldn't get tax records about Trump that date from before his presidency back to 2011. Mehta said that the justifications offered by the House committee for the other records it subpoenaed, which the committee said it needed for potential legislation around presidential financial disclosures, "does not warrant disclosure of President Trump's personal and corporate financial records when balanced against the separation of powers concerns raised by the broad scope of its subpoena."
The House Oversight Committee first issued the subpoena for the Trump financial records held by Mazars in April 2019. The following month, Trump filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block Mazars' compliance with the subpoena. Mehta initially upheld the subpoena, as did the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, prompting Trump's appeal to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion backed Congress' authority generally to issue subpoenas for a president's personal financial records, but he instructed lower courts to weigh those subpoenas against "special concerns regarding the separation of powers."
In considering the records that the House committee was seeking for its investigation into the Trump hotel's GSA contract, Mehta found that the separation of powers principles "have little, if any, force."
"By freely contracting with GSA for his own private economic gain, and by not divesting upon taking office, President Trump opened himself up to potential scrutiny from the very Committee whose jurisdiction includes the 'management of government operations and activities, including Federal procurement,'" the judge wrote. "That he happened to occupy the presidency for some portion of his still-in-effect lease does nothing to change that fact."
Rep. Gerry Connolly, who leads the House Oversight subcommittee overseeing the GSA probe, said in a tweet that it was a "good thing" lawmakers will see some of Trump's tax records, but he condemned how long it's taken for the case to play out. "We issued this subpoena two years ago. That he was able to run out the clock and avoid accountability until he left office is not a victory for the rule of law. It is an abject failure," the Virginia Democrat said
House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney said in a statement that she was "pleased" the court had found that the committee was entitled to some of the records it had been seeking.
"While it is disappointing that the Court, despite finding that the entire subpoena served valid legislative purposes, narrowed the subpoena in some respects, the Committee is actively considering next steps," the New York Democrat said.
Lawyers for Mazars did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment. A lawyer for Trump did not immediately provide comment.
This case is separate from the litigation around the request for Trump's tax returns issued by the House Ways and Means committee. In the Ways and Means case, a judge won't be deciding before November whether lawmakers can obtain the Trump tax records that the Ways and Means sought from the IRS.
This story has been updated with additional details.