A federal appeals court on Monday grappled with former President TrumpDonald TrumpChile elects millennial who wants to tax the rich as new president The day democracy almost died Trump says he would not impose boycott against Beijing Olympics MORE‘s effort to block a Democrat-led congressional committee in its renewed push to obtain his personal financial records.
A three-judge panel for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments over a 2019 subpoena from the House Oversight and Reform Committee demanding eight years of private financial papers from Trump’s accounting firm.
In the latest round of arguments in the case, which the Supreme Court sent back to the lower courts unresolved more than a year ago, the panel questioned how it should weigh the congressional subpoena and Trump’s claims of separation-of-powers concerns now that he is no longer in office.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson questioned Trump’s lawyer over his argument that the former president is entitled to special treatment under the law that would shield his information from congressional subpoenas.
“The other part that worries me, in addition to the separation-of-powers concerns, is whether that’s really consistent with the rule of law and the peaceful and full complete transfer of power,” said Jackson, who was appointed by President BidenJoe BidenGoldman lowers 2022 growth forecasts after Manchin says no to BBB Biden’s unending dilemma: Dealing with Joe Manchin The day democracy almost died MORE.
“That someone who used to be a private person becomes the president and returns to a private person is very fundamental in our constitutional system. And yet somehow now you say if a subpoena comes to him, in his post presidency, and the legislature establishes a reason for it … we should still say that they can’t get it from him,” she continued.
“And I’m trying to understand why that is, what makes him so different or special that he gets this kind of accommodation that other people in private life don’t.”
Cameron Norris, a lawyer representing Trump in the case, pointed to court precedents that held that former presidents retain some residual powers in certain circumstances once they leave office, and that congressional “disputes with former presidents still do implicate the separation of powers.”
The Supreme Court last year overruled a string of lower-court victories for the committee, holding that such interbranch legal disputes over access to a president’s personal information should be weighed more carefully by the courts.
After hearing a new round of arguments this year, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta narrowed the subpoena in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, but ruled that Trump’s accounting firm Mazars must turn over personal financial records from his time in office as well as a broader set of records related to the former president’s lease with the General Services Administration (GSA) for the Trump Hotel in D.C.
“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,'” Mehta wrote in his decision.
Both Trump and the House committee appealed different parts of Mehta’s ruling. Trump’s lawyers are arguing that the subpoena is politically-motivated and lacks a valid legislative purpose, and that it would upset the government’s balance of powers if it were enforced.
“The committee says it needs a detailed understanding and full accounting of President Trump’s finances in order to legislate,” Norris said on Monday. “No prior Congress has demanded this kind of information, but every future Congress will if this Court upholds the subpoena. There’s no principled way to limit the fallout to President Trump.”
The committee, meanwhile, is still seeking records that Mehta ruled should be removed from the scope of the subpoena, including Trump’s personal financial records from the time before he took office, arguing that they are needed to inform legislation that could help prevent conflicts of interests in the White House.
The appeals court panel on Monday at times appeared uncertain about how to evaluate lawmakers’ legislative need for the records and how to balance it against the need for confidentiality, if any, that a former president retains after leaving office.
“So the more it seems like President Trump’s financial arrangements were historically complicated and multi-layered and unique, the less it seems like that information is going to be relevant in predicting what a future president might present,” Judge Sri Srinivasan said to the committee’s attorney.
“And if the way that the inquiry works is, ‘This is highly highly, highly unique. We want to explore it at all even though it may never may well never come up again.’ Then it starts to look like well, why look into that highly, highly, highly unique situation to inform future circumstances that are very, very unlikely to present those kinds of considerations again?” added Srinivasan, an Obama appointee.
Douglas Letter, the House’s general counsel, responded that in last year’s presidential election, Trump was one of three billionaires who were candidates or were publicly considering a campaign, along with former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergInvest in kids and families now so that someday I’ll be out of a job Appeals court weighs House push to obtain Trump’s financial records Biden cannot allow his domestic fumbles to transfer to the world stage MORE and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Letter suggested that investigating Trump’s vast business interests would help Congress learn whether it needs to impose safeguards against any future wealthy presidents who may face concerns over conflicts of interest.
“For example, we know … that there were serious problems that could have gone to major national security concerns, because of Mr. Trump’s financial interests with, for example, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia,” Letter said.
Letter urged the panel to rule quickly in the case, but the judges did not indicate when they might issue a decision.