“We believe this court can and should rule quickly and immediately,” Letter said.
The disputed subpoena was back at the D.C. Circuit after a Supreme Court ruling this summer returned the case for a more detailed review of Congress’s request to access Trump’s business records held by his longtime accounting firm. The justices said the president is not immune from congressional investigation but put the subpoena on hold in the meantime.
Trump’s lawyer Cameron T. Norris said the House Committee on Oversight and Reform must “go back to the drawing board” because of the new higher bar the Supreme Court set for subpoenas targeting a president’s personal papers. Norris said lawmakers’ “vague, loosely worded” explanation doesn’t pass the test.
House Democrats are seeking eight years of the president’s information that lawmakers say they need to amend financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest laws. The case involving the president’s records held by Mazars USA is one of several clashes over access to Trump’s personal business information.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. is separately seeking the same records as part of his investigation into alleged hush-money payments made before the 2016 election to two women who said they had affairs with Trump, who has denied their claims. The Supreme Court could soon decide whether to grant Trump’s request to block immediate disclosure of his accounting firm records to a grand jury in New York.
Trump, unlike every president since Jimmy Carter, has not voluntarily turned over his tax returns.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in July, the New York Times has published a series of stories about the president’s taxes and debt based on tax return records it has obtained.
The three-judge panel reviewing the case for a second time Tuesday previously sided with Congress in a 2-to-1 decision. Judge David S. Tatel, nominated by President Bill Clinton, and Judge Patricia A. Millett, nominated by President Barack Obama, were in the majority. Judge Neomi Rao, nominated by President Trump, dissented.
The judges asked Tuesday whether the court could narrow the scope of information requested in the House subpoena, but they did not clearly indicate how or when they might rule.
Millett expressed skepticism when Trump’s lawyer suggested that the president was willing to work with the House to provide financial documents. She asked how lawmakers could pass carefully crafted legislation targeting the president without detailed information.
“They can’t shoot in the dark,” Millett said. “They really need to understand the nature of this precise problem.”
“We don’t want them to overshoot,” Norris agreed, adding, “There are plenty of ways for us to work together.”
In response, Millett noted, “The president really has not been very accommodating of subpoenas” and in some cases has “flatly forbidden any compliance.”
Rao pressed the House lawyer about the breadth of Congress’s investigative powers. If the court upheld the subpoena, she asked, would there be limits to the types of information lawmakers could seek going forward? Could the committee, she asked, access detailed health records of a president?
Letter said such a request would be valid if, for instance, Congress was concerned about a president’s health interfering with his official duties.
In sending the case back to the appeals court for additional review, the Supreme Court said that subpoenas directed at the president must meet a higher bar and can be “no broader than reasonably necessary” to serve Congress’s purpose.
Ahead of the oral argument, House lawyers told the court that Trump’s refusal to fully disclose or divest from his business holdings creates “the risk that his decision-making as President may be influenced by private financial considerations.”
Trump’s lawyers questioned lawmakers’ intentions in their court filings. The committee’s “professed interest” in revamping financial disclosure laws “cannot justify the ‘significant step’ of subpoenaing the president’s papers,” according to the president’s team.
Justice Department attorneys, who filed a brief in support of the president’s position, said the sweeping request amounted to a “dragnet” and noted that the committee already has obtained an enormous amount of information about the president’s finances without a subpoena.
After the high court’s ruling, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) issued a lengthy memo expanding on Congress’s justification for the subpoena and why lawmakers believe that it satisfies the Supreme Court’s new standard.
House lawyers described Trump’s finances as complex and opaque, and said in court filings that the president’s “unwillingness to disclose important financial information voluntarily” has “exposed vulnerabilities in current law intended to protect against Presidential conflicts of interest.”
In response, Trump’s lawyers urged the court not to consider the new committee memo as part of its review. The president’s lawyers warned that enforcing the subpoena would allow Congress to access “virtually any private records from any president,” including medical records and school transcripts, and thus would discourage people from running for public office.