President Donald Trump’s lawyer pressed a federal judge in Washington to nix efforts by a Democrat-led congressional committee to obtain tax records from the president’s longtime accounting firm, calling the document request invalid.
“They’ve made clear this is not about legislation,” William Consovoy told U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta Tuesday.
Even legislative reasons offered by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for looking into the finances of the president and his businesses, including the umbrella Trump Organization, are unconstitutional, Consovoy said, suggesting the judge rule that way.
Mehta was openly skeptical, telling the president’s lawyer, “I just can’t imagine that that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
The judge, a 2014 appointee of President Barack Obama, opened the hearing by making it clear he considers the issues raised by Trump and his business as serious and vowed he would only issue a ruling after due consideration and not at the end of today’s hearing. No judge would make a hasty decision “for the sake of expediency,” Mehta said.
The 90-minute hearing was marked by Mehta’s sparring with Consovoy over the scope of Congressional oversight. The president’s lawyer claimed the ability of lawmakers to check the executive branch must have close ties to legislative functions, while the judge cited examples of when that wasn’t the case, including the Watergate and Whitewater probes.
Trump and his businesses sued last month to block the House committee from obtaining records from the Mazars USA LLP accounting firm dating back to 2011. The firm has taken no position on the request.
Two other House committees are embroiled in court fights with the president and his businesses, including the Trump Organization, over requests for records from Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp. The lawmakers last week asked U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos to speed that case to a conclusion. The House Ways and Means Committee is also demanding that the U.S. Treasury Department provide it with Trump’s tax returns for the past six years.
Committee lawyer Douglas Letter told Mehta that Trump has taken the position that “Congress is a nuisance,” getting in the way of his ability to govern. “That’s a total, basic misunderstanding of the Constitution,” Letter said.
The committee doesn’t need a specific legislative objective in order to see the information it seeks from Mazars, Letter said, explaining that Trump’s far-flung business holdings made such oversight a necessity.
That prompted the judge to ask whether any part of the president’s private life was off limits to Congress.
Letter said it would have to be something that relates solely to Trump, such as a childhood diary or a sample of his blood, but perhaps not a mortgage application from 15 or 30 years ago.
When asked by Mehta why the committee sought information that predated Trump’s presidency, Letter said potentially unlawful acts, if known by others — such as the Russian government — could make Trump vulnerable to undue influence.
Consovoy bristled at the notion Congressional power stopped at getting the president’s blood or diary, saying committees are restricted to the missions delegated to them.
At the hearing’s end, Mehta, who opted to consolidate the president’s initial request for a preliminary injunction with a hearing on the merits of the dispute, told both sides they could submit additional documents to him until the end of the week, after which he’d rule.
Trump placed his holdings in a revocable trust overseen by his sons and the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, after his 2016 election, rather than shed them or relinquish family control.
The Mazars case is Trump v. Committee on Oversight and Reform, 19-cv-1136, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).