Judge rules Democrats can have only limited access to Trump's financial records

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Washington gave a partial victory Wednesday to a House committee in its long-running effort to get financial records from Donald Trump's accounting firm.

But the ruling also gave some ground to the former president by limiting the nature and scope of the records sought.

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta said the House Oversight and Reform Committee can proceed with a subpoena to get documents from Mazars, the accounting firm, to examine the nature of Trump's federal lease for a hotel in Washington. The committee can also get financial records to look at whether Trump's income on overseas properties violated the Constitution's ban on foreign emoluments.

But the judge said the committee failed to demonstrate a specific need for documents related to Trump's financial disclosure obligations. The committee "does not adequately explain why other sources of information — outside President Trump's personal papers — could not reasonably provide Congress the information it needs."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the House Oversight Committee chairwoman, said she was pleased the ruling "found that the committee is entitled to eight years of financial information from Mazars related to President Trump, the Trump Organization, and the Trump Old Post Office Hotel, as well as a broader set of information from the first two years of Mr. Trump's presidency.

"While it is disappointing that the Court, despite finding that the entire subpoena served valid legislative purposes, narrowed the subpoena in some respects, the Committee is actively considering next steps."

The legal battle over the documents began in 2019 and wound up before the Supreme Court, which rejected Trump's argument that a president's records were beyond the reach of Congress. But that ruling last year said lower courts must be respectful of separation of powers issues in demanding documents from a president.

The House Oversight Committee issued a revised subpoena in February, offering new justifications for the records from Trump's accounting firm.

Mehta said a congressional subpoena for the records of a former president does not need to meet as high a legal standard as would apply to someone still in office. The current demand for documents "seeks only President Trump's personal records, so it imposes no burden on the sitting president."

Even so, Mehta said, a former president deserves some deference that would not apply to an ordinary citizen, and the judge pared back the committee's request for records related to Trump's income from foreign properties. The subpoena sought financial documents starting in 2011, but Trump did not become president until 2017 and could not have received any constitutionally prohibited emoluments before then. So the judge said the subpoena could seek only those records starting after Trump became president.

The House Oversight Committee originally acted after Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified that "Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."

The president's personal lawyers argued that Congress has the power to issue subpoenas only for the purpose of writing laws. The demands for Trump's documents, they said, were instead an effort to conduct investigations, not to legislate. Simply claiming that the information might lead to changing existing laws could not transform a law enforcement effort into a law-making one, they said.

Trump's lawyers have not said whether they will appeal Wednesday's ruling, but given their consistent objections in the past, such a move could be likely.

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