Donald Trump’s lawyers are all but daring Congress to launch an impeachment inquiry into the president’s alleged crimes.
On May 20, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta knocked down the dubious argument made by Trump’s lawyers that Congress has no “legitimate legislative purpose” to obtain the president’s financial records, which have been subpoenaed by the Oversight and Reform Committee. Mehta ruled that Congress has broad investigatory powers that should not solely be limited to impeachment.
“It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry,” Mehta wrote.
In their brief filed Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit challenging a congressional subpoena for financial records held by Trump’s accounting firm, the president’s lawyers argued that the court should not consider the inherent “non-legislative powers” of Congress ― impeachment ― if it is not actively going down that path. The brief goes on to cite Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) repeated denials that the House is engaged in impeachment proceedings for the president.
Trump’s lawyers also argued that Mehta had no right to invoke the impeachment power in ruling for Congress, when the Oversight and Reform Committee did not mention impeachment in its brief before Mehta or in its subpoena for the documents. In doing so, the president’s lawyers are directly arguing that Congress would have more authority if they were to subpoena for documents as part of an impeachment inquiry. “[T]he Constitution also grants Congress non-legislative powers,” the brief states, adding, “And the House and Senate can, respectively, impeach and try impeachments.”
House Democrats are currently embroiled in an internal battle about whether to launch an impeachment inquiry. Around 60 House members have called for an inquiry, but Democratic leadership has deflected by arguing that they should focus on passing legislation (which will go nowhere in the Senate) while getting to the bottom of Trump’s corruption through the ordinary investigative process.
“If you open an impeachment inquiry, do you get more information?” Pelosi said during a CNN interview on Tuesday. “You still end up in the court.”
Absent impeachment, Congress’ subpoena of the president’s financial records from his accounting firm Mazars USA LLP should be held invalid as the Oversight and Reform Committee has no legitimate legislative reason to obtain them, Trump’s lawyers continue to argue, as they did before losing in district court.
The committee has provided numerous legislative reasons to subpoena Trump’s financial records in its legal briefs. Specifically, the committee says it is pursuing the records to determine if the president lied on his mandatory annual financial disclosure reports and whether any legislation is necessary to fix any loopholes or provide more transparency on presidential finances. The committee passed the For The People Act in 2019 to expand disclosure requirements and provide statutory support for the Foreign Emoluments Clause in the Constitution.
Trump’s lawyers, however, argue that these legislative purposes should be discarded because, according to them, they are unconstitutional. In fact, the president’s lawyers say the already existing presidential financial disclosure laws are unconstitutional.
The president lost using these arguments before Mehta and also in a separate district court case regarding a subpoena for the president’s bank records.
“[T]here can be little doubt that Congress’s interest in the accuracy of the President’s financial disclosures falls within the legislative sphere,” Mehta wrote.
These cases appear headed to the Supreme Court and Trump’s appeal brief contains a Trumpian appeal to the personal interest of the justices there.
It argues that justices should be concerned about Congress subpoenaing their personal financial records if they allow the subpoena for Trump’s financial information to stand. That’s because the justices are already covered by congressionally enacted financial disclosure laws. Additionally, the House-passed For The People Act contains provisions extending judicial ethics codes to the Supreme Court.
“[R]eplace ‘President’ with ‘Justices’ and [Mehta’s ruling] would, without question, authorize a congressional subpoena for the Justices’ accounting records— even for many years before they joined the Court,” Trump’s lawyers argue.
Trump wants to make sure that when the Supreme Court considers his personal financial records, they think of their own, too.