Trump sues to block US Congress subpoena for his financial records

President Donald Trump has filed a lawsuit to keep US lawmakers from obtaining his financial records, the latest salvo in what promises to be an escalating legal battle with Democrats in Congress.

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump has filed a suit to keep US lawmakers from obtaining his financial records, the first salvo in what promises to be an escalating legal battle with Democrats in Congress.

The suit filed on Monday seeks to block a subpoena issued by the Democratic chairman of the United States House Oversight Committee for information about Mr Trump's personal and business finances, alleging the Democrats have launched "all-out political war" on Mr Trump with subpoenas as their "weapon of choice".

The committee's subpoena sought eight years of documents from Mazars USA, an accounting firm long used by Mr Trump to prepare financial statements, related to its investigation of allegations that Mr Trump inflated or deflated financial statements for potentially improper purposes.

Mr Elijah Cummings, the House Oversight Committee chairman, issued the subpoena to the President's accountant after Mr Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress in February that Mr Trump had misrepresented his net worth.

"Chairman Cummings' subpoena is invalid and unenforceable because it has no legitimate legislative purpose," Mr Trump's lawyers said in a filing, arguing it exceeded constitutional limits on the power of Congress to investigate.

"Its goal is to expose Plaintiffs' private financial information for the sake of exposure, with the hope that it will turn up something that Democrats can use as a political tool against the President now and in the 2020 election," they said.

In a statement on Monday, Mr Cummings said there was no valid legal basis to try to block the subpoena and accused the White House of "unprecedented stonewalling" in refusing to produce a single document or witness to the committee.

 
 

The filing was the first effort by Mr Trump's legal team to quash multiple investigations of Mr Trump and his finances by Democratic-led committees in Congress. His lawyers made it clear they would resist those efforts.

"Democrats are using their new control of congressional committees to investigate every aspect of President Trump's personal finances, businesses, and even his family," Mr Trump's lawyers said.

The Trump Organisation, the President's privately owned real estate company, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Mr Trump is suing in his individual capacity, and is represented by a private law firm rather than government lawyers from the US Department of Justice.

Republicans on the Oversight Committee also had objected to the subpoena from Mr Cummings, arguing it was an abuse of congressional authority to target the private financial information of Mr Trump.

"As a firm, we will respect this process and will comply with all legal obligations," Mazars said in a statement. "As with all clients, we are precluded by our professional code of conduct and corporate policy from commenting further on inquiries of this nature."

Mr Ross Garber, a Washington lawyer who focuses on political probes, said the lawsuit might be dismissed because of the Speech or Debate Clause of the US Constitution, which offers broad legal protection to members of Congress for actions they undertake as legislators.

But he also said there was merit in Mr Trump's argument that the subpoena was brought for improper purpose of unearthing politically damaging information, rather than for a legitimate legislative purpose. "Congressional authority is vast but it is not unlimited, and the complaint raises potentially legitimate questions," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2019, with the headline 'Trump sues to block US Congress subpoena for his financial records'. Print Edition | Subscribe