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Judge skeptical of Trump effort to keep records from House

May 14, 2019
In this May 13, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump listens to a question during a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. A federal judge in Washington is set to hold a hearing on May 14 on Trump’s attempt to block a House subpoena seeking his financial records. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge suggested Tuesday he is skeptical of President Donald Trump’s efforts to block Congress from obtaining some of his financial records.

Judge Amit Mehta spent about an hour and a half holding a hearing on Trump’s effort to keep financial records from Congress. Mehta did not rule during the hearing whether the House’s subpoena of Trump financial records is a valid exercise of legislative power, but he said he would do so “promptly.”

The lawsuit before Mehta comes amid a widespread effort by the White House and the president’s attorneys to refuse to cooperate with congressional requests for information and records. And it is the first of what is likely to be many related to Trump’s stonewalling.

House Democrats have said court battles are inevitable as they have made dozens of requests for documents and witnesses that the White House and others in the administration have rebuffed. Trump, his business and family have also filed a lawsuit in New York against Deutsche Bank and Capital One in an attempt to block subpoenas from the House Financial Services and intelligence panels seeking their banking and financial records. A hearing in that case is set for May 22.

While Trump jump-started those court fights, Democrats are expected to eventually file some of their own lawsuits against the administration.

Democrats also have issued subpoenas for six years of Trump’s tax documents and given Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig a deadline of this coming Friday to deliver them.

In the case before Mehta, Trump and his business organization sued the House oversight committee in April in an attempt to block a subpoena issued to Mazars USA, an accountant for the president and Trump Organization. Trump’s lawyers argued the subpoena “has no legitimate legislative purpose” and accused Democrats of harassing Trump and wielding their new majority in Congress to try to stain the president’s standing.

But House lawyers told the judge that the Constitution gives Congress broad powers to investigate and that it doesn’t need to tie an investigation it is undertaking to a specific piece of legislation it is considering.

Mehta, who was nominated to his position by President Barack Obama, suggested during the hearing that Congress has wide latitude to investigate. He told Trump lawyer William Consovoy that there isn’t a case since 1880 where the Supreme Court or an appeals court found that Congress overstepped its boundaries in issuing a subpoena.

Douglas Letter, an attorney for the House, told the judge that “President Trump has no chance of success here.” And he said Trump has taken the position that Congress is “just getting in his way” of running the country.

Mehta did suggest to Letter that the subpoena does seem to be an effort to get into Trump’s private affairs. And he asked Letter whether there are any limits on what Congress can obtain. Letter acknowledged that there are some outer limits, suggesting a request for the president’s blood or his diary from when he was a child might be too extreme. But he said the subpoena for financial records is clearly permissible.

The judge seemed to be looking to resolve the case quickly, though he said he would accept additional materials this week.

“We’re not going to drag this out,” he said at one point.

Consovoy, Trump’s lawyer, indicated near the end of the hearing that his client would appeal if the judge ruled against him.

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Associated Press reporter Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report from Washington.

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