Judge rules House Democrats can get some Trump financial records

Washington — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that former President Donald Trump’s accounting firm must hand over a portion of a trove of financial documents sought by House Democrats, while ruling that other records about the former president’s finances were protected under the separation of powers.

In a 53-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta — who ruled two years ago that the House Oversight Committee was entitled to all of the financial records it requested — ordered that only the documents related to Congress’ investigations into the former president’s lease of the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., and foreign emoluments must be released to the committee. 

Mehta ruled that documents pertaining to broader investigations into the former president’s financial disclosures, however, are shielded due to the separation of powers concerns. 

Explaining the shift from his previous ruling, Mehta wrote that Supreme Court opinions from 2020 on presidential financial disclosures to Congress require that he examine the request with greater scrutiny. The Supreme Court last year sent the dispute back to the lower courts for further consideration, after it said they failed to take adequate account of the separation-of-powers issues about congressional subpoenas for information from the president.

In his ruling Wednesday, Mehta found that “the Committee’s asserted legislative purpose of bolstering financial disclosure laws for Presidents and presidential candidates does not warrant disclosure of President Trump’s personal and corporate financial records when balanced against the separation of powers concerns raised by the broad scope of its subpoena.”

But the congressional request for records related to the Trump Hotel and Congress’ ability to craft legislation about under the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause “do not implicate the same separation of powers concerns,” he found.

“The records corresponding to those justifications therefore must be disclosed,” the judge wrote.

The long-running legal dispute has been working its way up and down the federal court system for two years, with the central question being whether Congress has shown a “legitimate legislative purpose” in requesting eight years of financial documents from Mazars USA, Mr. Trump’s accounting firm.

In two subpoenas and supporting documents beginning in 2019, Democrats have argued they need all of the records to examine Mr. Trump’s compliance with financial disclosure laws, the government’s leasing of the Old Post Office that now houses the Trump Hotel and alleged violations of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits U.S. officials from receiving compensation from foreign powers. The former president and his legal team asserted the investigations were nothing more than efforts to expose his finances for political gain.

“None of the cited evidence convinces the court that the Committee issued the subpoena to Mazars for an improper purpose,” Judge Mehta wrote, but later said that the House committee “offers a series of independent reasons why President Trump’s personal papers will uniquely advance its legislative objectives [related to financial disclosure laws]. None are persuasive.”

As for investigations related to emoluments, Mehta found that the committee “is not engaged in a baseless fishing expedition.”

“It has presented the requisite degree of evidence to substantiate the Committee’s legislative purpose,” he wrote.

Mehta ordered Mazars to release subpoenaed documents from 2017 and 2018 related to Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and Trump Old Post Office LLC pursuant to the committee’s investigation into the hotel’s lease, as well as records from the same time period related to emoluments. 

The former president can appeal the decision, which would spark yet another round of legal wrangling over his financial documents.

Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.

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