Former President Donald Trump’s accountants have to give two years of tax records to Democrats in Congress, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta, in a partial win for the House Oversight Committee, said records from 2017 and 2018 must be handed over to the panel.
But the Obama nominee also rejected efforts to obtain more tax records dating back to 2011, arguing the panel’s subpoena was “broad” and “invasive” to the extent that it “poses an appreciable risk to the separation of powers.”
“In the current polarized political climate, it is not difficult to imagine the incentives a Congress would have to threaten or influence a sitting President with a similarly robust subpoena, issued after he leaves office, in order to ‘aggrandize itself at the President’s expense.’ In the court’s view, this not-insignificant risk to the institution of the presidency outweighs the Committee’s incremental legislative need for the material subpoenaed from Mazars,” Mehta said in the 53-page ruling.
Mazars is Trump’s accounting firm.
The subpoena fails to meet the standard of needing to aim to produce material “‘related to, and in furtherance of’ its valid legislative purpose,” the judge added later.
But he agreed to approve a narrowed subpoena that deals with records across two years from Trump, the Trump Organization, and the Trump Old Post Office LLC.
Those records are part of the panel’s effort to see whether Trump violated the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution in acquiring in 2013 a lease from the government to build a hotel at the Old Post Office building in Washington.
Trump’s failure to divest himself upon taking office opened the former president up to potential scrutiny from the House Oversight Committee, Mehta said.
Because most former presidents do not maintain a business relationship with the federal government, the likelihood that future presidents will be subject to a similar congressional inquiry “appears remote,” the judge added.
“Absent such a business tie, Congress’s leverage over a sitting President who might fear a retributive subpoena upon leaving office for personal financial records disappears. Thus, there is little ‘institutional advantage’ to be had from a subpoena that springs from a voluntary business relationship that a President maintains with the federal government,” he said.
Maloney and Trump did not respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the former chairman of the panel Maloney now heads, in April 2019 issued a subpoena against Mazars for a slew of Trump tax records from 2011 to 2019, including years before Trump assumed office in 2017. Cummings said the information was required to probe whether Trump engaged in illegal conduct.
Trump sued over the subpoena, alleging Cummings “ignored the constitutional limits on Congress’ power to investigate” and that the subpoena lacked a legitimate legislative purpose.
The same court is considering whether to force Trump to hand over six years of tax records to another House chair, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.).
Neal asserts he needs the records to ascertain whether tax officials adequately audit presidents, while Trump says the Neal effort also lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.
In yet another case, Trump’s records were delivered to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in February after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the former president. Vance has not made the records public.