September 22, 2019
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Here’s what you need to know about President Trump’s suit to keep his finances secret

Carolyn Kaster | AP
Carolyn Kaster | AP
In this Aug. 21, 2019, photo, President Donald Trump arrives at the White House in Washington, as he returns from Louisville, Ky.

The Justice Department is siding with President Donald Trump in his fight to keep his banking records out of the hands of House Democrats.

A panel of justices at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments Friday morning on Trump’s appeal in the case. Trump is appealing a district judge’s ruling that would have allowed Deutsche Bank and Capital One to hand over years of financial records relating to the president, his three eldest children and the president’s companies to two House committees.

Trump’s lawsuit to block the subpoenas was filed as a private citizen, not by the government, and it names Deutsche Bank and Capital One as defendants, with the two House committees added as intervening parties.

In an amicus brief filed Monday, the Justice Department argued there isn’t a clear legislative purpose for the subpoenas, an argument also being made by the president.

“The Committees present no reason why a general legislative inquiry into money laundering or related abuses of the financial system needs to single out the President and his family, and those subjects cannot objectively account for the breadth of the subpoenas here,” states the brief, signed by five DOJ officials, including Joseph Hunt, assistant attorney general.

The department’s intervention could catch the attention of the appeals court, legal experts say. “To have DOJ come in and argue that there are separation of power concerns is something the court is going to pay attention to even if it ultimately doesn’t change the result,” said Caleb Hayes-Deats, an attorney for MoloLamken who clerked on the court for Chief Judge Robert Katzmann.

The case is part of an escalating fight between Trump and congressional Democrats over the president’s financial records. Trump has broken with decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns and is fighting on multiple fronts to keep the details of his finances secret.

What are the committees seeking?

The House Intelligence and Financial Services committees, which have been leading the Democrats’ probe of Trump’s finances, have subpoenaed years of records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One. The subpoenas would require the banks to turn over documents that go back as far as ten years, but could go even further, including every checking withdrawal, credit-card swipe, or debit-card purchase, according to Trump’s lawsuit.

Deutsche Bank, a German financial giant, has been a major lender to both the Trump Organization and Kushner Companies, previously operated by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a presidential adviser.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee, have said they want to know whether the president’s financial transactions left him susceptible to foreign influence that could compromise his duties as president.

The appeals court “will be looking for whether the House can show a quote legislative purpose unquote for the subpoena, like possible bank legislation, rather than targeting Trump individually,” said Charles Tiefer, a former longtime House lawyer who is now a University of Baltimore law professor.

What is Trump’s argument against allowing the banks to comply with the subpoenas?

Trump and his attorneys have called the subpoenas politically motivated attacks and presidential harassment. The committees are asking for a broad set of financial information that would violate the privacy of the president, his children and others, they argue.

“They are looking for [bank] records about minors, about in-laws,” Trump attorney Patrick Strawbridge, told District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos in May.

Ramos swiftly rejected Trump’s motion for a preliminary injunction to block the subpoenas in May. Such an injunction would have barred the banks from complying with the subpoenas while Trump’s lawsuit moved forward.

“Based on the briefs it seems it should be a pretty easy decision for the Second Circuit like it was for the district court,” said Hayes-Deats, who has also argued cases before the court.

Where do the banks stand?

Lawyers for Capital One, based in McLean, Virginia, and Deutsche Bank have told the court they are not taking any position on whether they should be compelled to provide information. The banks have cooperated with the committees, according to a person familiar with their discussions not authorized to speak on the record.

Who will decide Trump’s appeal?

The appeal will be heard by three members of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, one of the country’s most important courts and generally considered nonpolitical. The court is known for taking on high-profile financial cases emanating from Wall Street.

The panel will be made up of U.S. Circuit Court judges Jon Newman, Peter Hall and Debra Ann Livingston. Newman was appointed to the court by President Carter. Hall and Livingston were appointed by President George W. Bush.

What’s the status of Trump’s other efforts to keep his finances private?

Trump’s fight to keep his finances private extend beyond attempting to block the subpoenas of Deutsche Bank and Capital One.

Trump is also suing to block the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena to Mazars USA, the president’s accounting form, for financial statements and audits it prepared for Trump and several of his companies. A federal district judge refused to block the subpoenas and the case is currently pending before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

He has also filed lawsuits to block laws in California and New York that could require him to either release his tax returns in order to run for president or could allow Congress to get access to his state returns.

What is the greater significance of the case in the 2nd Circuit?

In the short term, the case could help determine whether House Democrats are able to get access to Trump’s financial records quickly. In the long term, the appeals court could help clarify the line between a president’s power and Congress’s oversight authority, including whether presidents can ignore congressional subpoenas.

 



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