A United States federal court ruled on Friday that President Donald Trump‘s financial records must be turned over to the House of Representatives as part of a probe into possible conflicts of interest.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform subpoenaed Trump’s records from his accountants, Mazars USA, in April. But the president’s legal team mounted a robust resistance, arguing the subpoena was a partisan ploy that lacked a “legislative purpose”.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that congressional investigations are valid only if there is legislation that might result from them.
Democratic leaders in the House have said the chamber is currently considering legislation related to government conflicts of interest and presidential financial disclosures, making the subpoena relevant.
Friday’s ruling was the first time a federal court has waded into the debate about how far Congress can go in probing Trump and his business affairs, and marked an important victory for House Democrats.
“Contrary to the president’s arguments, the committee possesses authority under both the House Rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply,” Judge David Tatel wrote, in the decision in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
He was joined by Judge Patricia Millett in the 2-1 ruling. Judge Tatel was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, while Judge Millett is an appointee of President Barack Obama.
Trump could still appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
The subpoenaed materials include documents from 2011 to 2018 that the House wants for investigations into the president’s reporting of his finances and potential conflicts of interest.
The list of requested documents does not mention Trump’s tax returns, which are the subject of several separate legal disputes.
While it is customary for US presidential candidates to release their tax returns to offer a window into their finances, Trump has failed to release the records during his campaign and presidency.
Several ongoing cases
Judge Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee, dissented in the ruling. She argued that the committee should have asked for the records under the House’s impeachment power, not its legislative authority.
“The Constitution and our historical practice draw a consistent line between the legislative and judicial powers of Congress. The majority crosses this boundary for the first time by upholding this subpoena investigating the illegal conduct of the President under the legislative power,” Rao wrote.
The case is just one of many focusing on Trump’s financial records currently wending their way through federal courts.
In July, the House Ways and Means Committee sued the Trump administration over access to the president’s tax returns.
In New York, Trump sued to prevent Deutsche Bank and Capital One from complying with House subpoenas for banking and financial records in late April. A judge ruled against him, and Trump appealed.
Trump’s legal team is also fighting a federal judge’s ruling that Mazars must turn over eight years worth of his business and personal tax returns.
Those documents were subpoenaed as part of an investigation into Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr into the payment of hush money to two women who claimed to have had affairs with the president.
The judge in that case rejected Trump’s argument that sitting presidents are immune to criminal investigations.