Supreme Court blocks subpoena for Trump financial records

The ruling blocks a House subpoena directing Trump's accounting firm to turn over financial documents, giving the president a temporary legal victory.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks with members of the press as he meets with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in the Oval Office of the White House on Nov. 25, 2019.Patrick Semansky / AP

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By Pete Williams

The U.S. Supreme Court late Monday blocked a House subpoena directing President Donald Trump's accounting firm to turn over several years' worth of financial documents, giving the president at least a temporary legal victory.

In a brief order, the court said the subpoena would remain on hold until the president's lawyers file their appeal and the court acts on the case. The court gave his lawyers until Dec. 5 to file their appeal, a sign the justices intend to move quickly. But if the court agrees to hear the appeal, the stay would remain in effect for several more months.

The Democratic majority on the House Oversight Committee issued the subpoena in April, ordering the accounting firm Mazars USA to turn over Trump-related financial documents covering 2011 through 2018. The committee said it acted after former Trump 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."

After lower courts rejected attempts to block the subpoena, President Trump's lawyers urged the Supreme Court to keep it on hold while they prepare to appeal those rulings. Chief Justice John Roberts imposed a brief hold to give lawyers both sides to weigh in. Monday's order extended that stay.

Mr. Trump's private lawyers contended that the House has no authority to subpoena records unless it seeks information for the purpose of writing laws. In this case, they said, the House is improperly acting as an investigative body in an action that implicates the president.

While they cast the dispute as one raising profound constitutional questions involving the separation of powers, the House said it is not seeking anything covered by official privilege or, in fact, anything directly from the president at all. "There is no need for this court to make definitive pronouncements on the scope of Congress's power in a case in which its ruling will be so limited in application and consequence."

The House lawyers urged the court to lift the stay and let the subpoena take effect. But if the court is considering taking up the president's appeal, they urged the justices to impose an unusually fast timetable, with all legal briefs to be due by Dec. 11. If that happened, the hold on the subpoena would remain in place until the court decided whether to hear and decide the case.