WASHINGTON — Congress can seek eight years of President Donald Trump’s tax records, according to a federal appeals court order Wednesday that moves the separation-of-powers conflict one step closer to the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Circuit let stand an earlier ruling against the president that affirmed Congress’s investigative authority on a day when the House was holding its first public impeachment inquiry hearing.
Trump’s lawyers have said they are prepared to ask the Supreme Court to intervene in this case and in several other legal battles between the president and Congress.
The District Circuit was responding Wednesday to Trump’s request to have a full panel of judges rehear a three-judge decision from October that rejected the president’s request to block lawmakers from subpoenaing his longtime accounting firm.
The order does not mean Trump’s taxes will be turned over to Congress immediately. The District Circuit previously said it would put any ruling against the president on hold for seven days to give Trump’s attorneys time to ask the Supreme Court to step in.
Trump’s attorneys also are planning to ask the high court as soon as this week to block a similar subpoena for the president’s tax records from the Manhattan district attorney, who is investigating hush-money payments in the lead-up to the 2016 election. The New York-based appeals court ruled against Trump this month and refused to block the subpoena to his accounting firm, Mazars USA.
The District Circuit case centers on a House Oversight Committee subpoena from March for the president’s accounting firm records — issued months before the beginning of its impeachment inquiry, related to Trump’s alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.
The request for information followed testimony from Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen that Trump had exaggerated his wealth when he sought loans. Lawmakers are investigating potential conflicts of interest, including the accuracy of the president’s financial disclosures.
A divided three-judge panel of the court held in October that the House had issued its subpoena for “legitimate legislative pursuits, not an impermissible law-enforcement purpose,” as the president’s lawyers had argued.
“Contrary to the President’s arguments, the Committee possesses authority under both the House Rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply,” wrote Judge David Tatel, who was joined by Judge Patricia Millett. Both were nominated by Democratic presidents.
The dissenting judge, Neomi Rao — nominated by President Trump — said if the House wants to investigate possible wrongdoing by the president, it should use its constitutional impeachment powers, notoversight powers.
“Allowing the Committee to issue this subpoena for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government,” Rao wrote in a dissent longer than the majority opinion.
The House subsequently passed a resolution affirming its impeachment inquiry.