DOJ urges court to block Dem subpoena for Trump financial records

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a court filing Tuesday that it believes the House Oversight and Reform Committee hasn’t provided a clear legislative purpose for subpoenaing President TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE’s records from his private accountant and that the court should invalidate the subpoena.

In a brief filed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering the Democratic subpoena for records from Trump’s accountant Mazars, DOJ attorneys argued that issues involving separation of powers “are especially acute when litigation involves a congressional demand for the President’s information.”

And they said that the lawmakers need to provide a more specific legislative purpose for getting the documents, in light of the potential burden it could create for the president.

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“The separation-of-powers concerns arising from the President’s unique status likewise demand that the House (or at least the Committee) clearly identify a legitimate legislative purpose for seeking the President’s official or private records, including identifying with sufficient particularity the subject matter of potential legislation to which the information sought pertains,” the filing states.

The Justice Department argued that the House only recently voted to authorize the subpoena with a resolution that approved all “current and future” subpoenas relating to the president, but did “not articulate the legislative purposes to be served by any of these subpoenas.”

“The resolution’s authorization of all existing and future investigations and subpoenas reinforces the need for a clear statement of a valid legislative purpose to justify the specific subpoena and investigation concerning the President,” the government lawyers argued.

“The House’s lack of responsibility is sufficient reason for this Court to declare this subpoena invalid.”

The DOJ attorneys also pointed to a memo written by House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsStopgap government funding measure includes census money, military pay raise Maya Rockeymoore Cummings reports surgery was a success, will return to campaign trail The Hill's Morning Report — Public impeachment drama resumes today MORE (D-Md.) that laid out four topics of investigation for the panel as he issued the Mazars subpoena.

They argued that Cummings's list “provides ‘strong reason to doubt,’ that the subpoena’s ‘real object’ was legitimate in light of ‘the particular subjectmatter.’”

The DOJ claims echo Trump’s attorneys’ argument that the subpoena acts as a form of law enforcement.

A three-judge panel on the appellate court heard arguments over the subpoena last month. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, ruled to uphold the subpoena earlier this year, a decision that the president’s lawyers are now appealing.

However, the appellate judges seemed dubious of some arguments presented by Trump attorney William Consovoy during oral arguments. They pointed to specific bills either passed or proposed by House lawmakers that could be assisted by the subpoenaed documents as showing a legislative purpose.

And they noted that Congress has long conducted oversight of the president.

House general counsel Douglas Letter also argued that the House Oversight panel has broad powers to investigate.

The judges had asked the Justice Department to present their views on the topic in the days after arguments were held. The decision came after Consovoy raised separation of powers issues to the panel but said he did not know what the DOJ’s stance was in the case.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has similarly asked the Justice Department to submit a brief as they weigh subpoenas issued by House Democratic chairpersons for Trump’s records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One.

This is the first time the Justice Department has publicly weighed in on the subpoena battle.

In the brief filed Tuesday, the DOJ attorneys further argued that the document requests would place a burden on Trump and prevent him from being able to do his job.

“Even if Congress does not intend its subpoenas to burden the President, there is a serious risk they will, especially where there are myriad simultaneous inquiries,” the filing reads.

“Unlike investigations in criminal and civil proceedings, which are confined to discrete controversies and subject to various protective measures, congressional committees may issue successive subpoenas in waves, making far-reaching demands that harry the President and distract his attention.”

And they said that while the document request is targeted at Mazars, “this subpoena is in practical effect no different from one served on the President.”

“Courts also must conduct a more searching review of pertinence and necessity when Congress seeks information from the President,” the government lawyers wrote. “As in related contexts, subpoenas that are ‘overly broad’ and seek information that is not ‘demonstrably critical’ should be deemed invalid when directed at the President’s records on account of his office.

“The more penetrating inquiry required under such circumstances thus likewise demands a clear, specific statement from Congress of the legislative purpose that it believes justifies its subpoena," they added.