Friday, October 11, 2019
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform acted within its powers, and not in violation of the Constitution, when it issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, LLP, for records related to work performed by President Trump and his business entities both before and after he took office.
The ruling deals a sharp blow to President Trump and his efforts to shield his financial records. But the D.C. Circuit probably won't have the last say: this seems destined for the Supreme Court.
The case arose when the Committee subpoenaed Mazars for the records. President Trump sued to stop Mazars from releasing them, and the Justice Department filed an amicus brief on the side of the President.
The court flatly rejected the President's novel claims that the subpoena exceeded the Committee's authority and violated the Constitution. In particular, the court held that the subpoena was not an invalid exercise of law-enforcement (as opposed to legislative) power, because the Committee's explanation for the subpoena on its face stated a valid legislative purpose--to inform "multiple laws and legislative proposals under [the Committee's] jurisdiction." Moreover, the court noted that the House actually has pending legislation related to the subpoena, thus underscoring the legislative character of the subpoena, even though this isn't required.
The court held next that the subpoena has a valid legislative purpose. The court wrote that the subpoena could serve ethics and financial disclosure laws that apply to the President.
The court wrote that the subpoena's reach--seeking information before the President was elected and before he even announced his candidacy--fell within Congress's legislative power, because it could consider legislation requiring a President to disclose financial information going back before a President takes office.
Judge Rao dissented. She argued that the subpoena serves only the Committee's interest in determining "whether the President broke the law"; that the Committee can only take up this kind of law-enforcement function in the context of an impeachment; and that because the subpoena was issued outside of an impeachment proceeding, it is therefore invalid:
The majority breaks new ground when it determines Congress is investigating allegations of illegal conduct against the President, yet nonetheless upholds the subpoena as part of the legislative power. The Committee on Oversight and Reform has consistently maintained that it seeks to determine whether the President broke the law, but it has not invoked Congress's impeachment power to support this subpoena. When Congress seeks information about the President's wrongdoing, it does not matter whether the investigation also has a legislative purpose. Investigations of impeachable offenses simply are not, and never have been, within Congress's legislative power. Throughout history, Congress, the President, and the courts have insisted upon maintaining the separation between the legislative and impeachment powers of the House and recognized the gravity and accountability that follow impeachment. Allowing the Committee to issue this subpoena for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government.