CHICAGO (CBS/AP/CNN) — President Donald Trump’s lawyers will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that he must comply with a financial records subpoena from Congress, and the next battleground in the fight over those documents will be an appeals court led by Merrick Garland, the federal judge Republicans refused to confirm as President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court in 2016.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled Monday that Trump cannot block a financial records subpoena, after the White House and Trump’s attorneys had refused to cooperate with congressional requests for his personal, business and charity financial records.
Mehta ruled Congress was within its power to subpoena the president’s records, especially if it was investigating possible ethical lapses.
“History has shown that congressionally-exposed criminal conduct by the President or a high-ranking Executive Branch official can lead to legislation,” Mehta wrote.
The judge said the Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee had “valid legislative purposes” for its request and that it was not for him “to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations.” The committee has said the records will help it consider whether to strengthen ethics and disclosure laws, among other things.
Mehta’s ruling on the financial records subpoena was a quick and brutal loss for Trump among several efforts he has made in recent weeks to fend off Congress’ pursuit of his financial history.
Trump called it a “crazy” decision, and less than a day later his filed a notice of appeal at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Garland is the chief judge. Garland, a Chicago native, was President Barack Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016, but the Republican-led Senate refused to hold confirmation hearings for him, and instead confirmed Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch in 2017.
“Well we disagree with that ruling, it’s crazy because you look at it – this never happened to any other president, they’re trying to get a redo,” the president told reporters Monday night. “They’re trying to get what we used to call in school a do-over. And if you look, you know we had no collusion, we had no obstruction, we had no nothing. The Democrats were very upset with the Mueller report — as perhaps they should be — but the country is very happy about it because there was never anything like that. And they’re trying to get a redo or a do over and you can’t do that.”
Trump pointed to his Democratic predecessor when he told reporters before leaving the White House for a Monday night rally in Pennsylvania that “we think it’s totally the wrong decision by, obviously, an Obama-appointed judge.”
To the committee chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the judge’s decision was a “resounding victory for the rule of law and our constitutional system of checks and balances.”
Trump’s lawyers, in cases from Washington and New York challenging the Democrats’ demands, argued that congressional investigations are legitimate only if there is legislation that might result from them. “There is no possible legislation at the end of this tunnel,” his legal team said.
The White House made the same argument Friday when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would not comply with a congressional subpoena for six years of Trump’s tax returns.
In the New York case, Trump, his business and family want to prevent Deutsche Bank and Capital One from complying with House subpoenas for banking and financial records. A Wednesday court hearing is planned.
In the Washington case, Trump and his business organization are trying to block the subpoena issued in April to Mazars USA, which has provided accounting services to Trump. The subpoena to Mazars, prompted by Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress about Trump’s financial reporting, asks for the last seven years of records. That includes all annual statements, financial reports, independent audits, memos, notes and communications about Trump, his corporate trust account, the Trump Organization and some of its subsidiaries and the Trump Foundation.
Even before the ruling, legal scholars had said Trump’s argument had little merit and that Congress has broad powers to investigate.
Mehta said in his 41-page opinion that there are limits on Congress’s authority to investigate, but those limits “do not substantially constrain Congress.” He said that as long as “Congress investigates on a subject matter on which ‘legislation could be had,'” it is following the Constitution.
Mehta said that was true in this case, pointing to the committee’s memo outlining four areas of investigation, each of which he said Congress could legislate on.
The judge cited the Watergate investigation involving President Richard Nixon and the Whitewater investigation involving President Bill Clinton. He said Congress “plainly views itself as having sweeping authority to investigate illegal conduct of a President, before and after taking office.”
“This court is not prepared to roll back the tide of history,” he said.
Congressional lawyers had called Trump’s legal challenge a delay tactic. Trump’s team could delay the committee further if the appeals court steps in before next Monday. Trump’s team said he is appealing “all aspects” of Mehta’s ruling, including the judge’s decision to combine two stages of the court fight into one, and his refusal to pause the subpoena during appeals.
The Treasury Department has also vowed to fight a congressional subpoena to the IRS for Trump’s tax returns.
The fight between Capitol Hill and the White House over subpoenas and testimony is sure to be a long one. On Tuesday, White House counsel Don McGahn failed to show up for a House Judiciary Committee hearing, after the White House and Justice Department claimed he did not have to comply with the subpoena.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called a meeting for Wednesday morning to provide her caucus an update on ongoing oversight efforts and investigations.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and the CNN Wire contributed to this report.)