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Trump asks Supreme Court to block House subpoena for his financial records

Democrats said they need the documents to investigate whether the president accurately filled out required disclosure forms.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during an event on healthcare prices in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Nov. 15, 2019, in Washington.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for President Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to put a hold on a subpoena from a House committeeseeking eight years of his financial documents.

The case may produce the first action by the justices on the growing number of legal battles over access to Donald Trump's financial secrets. A lower court order upholding the subpoena takes effect on Nov. 20. So unless the Supreme Court acts quickly, the president's accounting firm, Mazars, will be required to turn the material over.

The Trump legal team told the justices in a court filing on Friday that if the lower court rulings are allowed to stand, any committee of Congress could subpoena any personal information it wants from a president.

"Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government — no matter which party is in power," Trump's team said.

The House Government Oversight committee issued the subpoena in April, ordering the accounting firm 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."

House Democrats said they need the documents to investigate whether the president accurately filled out required financial disclosure forms. But the Trump lawyers said the congressional subpoena power is limited to material needed to legislate, not to conduct criminal-style investigations. A federal judge and the Washington, D.C., court of appeals rejected the president's efforts to stop the subpoena.

Lawyers for the House have argued that the subpoena presents no threat to the president's ability to carry out his duties, because it is directed to his accountants doesn't require him to do anything. In dissents, two appeals court judges said they disagreed. "The subpoena in substance targets his records," said Gregory Katsas and Karen Henderson of the D.C. appeals court.

On Thursday, the president's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to grant their appeal in a separate case challenging a subpoena for his tax returns and other business records from the Manhattan district attorney. The Trump lawyers because a president cannot be indicted while in office, he is immune from any part of the criminal justice process.

While the two cases present different legal issues, the court could decide to consider them together. There is no deadline for the court to act.