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Trump Taxes: US Court of Appeals Upholds Disclosure of Financial Records to House

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A federal appeals court panel ruled Friday that House lawmakers can see the years of former President Donald Trump’s financial accounting, but the number of documents Trump must submit in a long-running legal battle over his adherence to the presidential ethics and disclosure laws, has narrowed.

The battle isn’t over – either side can still appeal the three-member panel’s ruling to the full US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit or to the Supreme Court. But the decision marked a partial victory for each side over a subpoena issued by the House Oversight Committee to Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, in 2019.

“We maintain the commission’s power to subpoena certain President Trump’s financial records in furtherance of the commission’s stated legislative purposes,” Chief Justice Sri Srinivasan wrote. “But we cannot sustain the magnitude of the commission’s subpoena.”

The panel reviewed a case that the U.S. Supreme Court sent back to the lower courts for further proceedings in July 2020.

In a complex, nuanced 67-page opinion, Srinivasan interpreted how the Supreme Court directive should be applied to “press for a subpoena no wider than is reasonably necessary to support Congress’ legislative objective.” The case centers on a largely unprecedented battle over how far Congress can go in investigating alleged corruption by the country’s president, and what protections former presidents retain from investigating lawmakers after their tenure under the Constitution’s separation of powers. .

Trump, who lost reelection in 2020 and is likely to prepare another White House bid in 2024, was the first major party candidate in decades to refuse to release his tax returns, and publicly criticized the Internal Revenue Service for controlling him. Trump refused to divest his business interests, and while in office, he oversaw the government leasing office for his flagship Washington hotel, even as his companies brought in millions from both the federal government and foreign powers.

In response, Congressional Democrats launched several attempts to scrutinize his finances, which stalled Trump. The House Oversight Committee demanded a large amount of information from Mazars about Trump and his business entities for an eight-year period, from 2011 to 2018, and said his presidency had revealed oversight weaknesses that could only be achieved with the information. could be addressed. The commission said it was seeking the documents to corroborate former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s testimony that Trump artificially inflated and deflated the reported value of his assets for personal gain.

Trump filed suit in May 2019 to block the release, arguing that he enjoyed absolute immunity from legislative investigations and that House Democrats wanted to expose his data only for political gain.

In another pending case, Trump also opposed a House Ways and Means Committee request to see six years of his federal tax records. After Trump left office, President Biden’s Treasury Department agreed to release the data, and a federal judge appointed by Trump agreed last December. Trump has continued to fight against the release as a private individual.

The judges in Friday’s decision — Srinivasan and U.S. Court of Appeals judge Judith W. Rogers — questioned during pleadings late last year whether forcing a former president to share his financial information upon his departure would could have a “horrifying effect” on all future commanders-in-chief, as Trump attorney Cameron Norris argued.

At the same time, Ketanji Brown Jackson — the third judge who heard arguments but has since been elevated to the Supreme Court and did not participate in the advisory — expressed concern about obtaining long-term protection for presidents after they return to their private lives, the authority of the undermine Congress.

In the end, Srinivasan found a middle ground by analyzing the commission’s demand for three types of information: documents related to Trump’s business and personal financial records at Mazars; data related to the federal lease for Trump’s recently sold Trump International Hotel in the Old Post Office Building in downtown Washington; and records related to legislation related to the constitution’s “foreign emoluments” clause, which prohibits presidents from accepting gifts from foreign nations.

The court said lawmakers could obtain Mazars records, source documents and betrothal letters from 2014 to 2018, but only those that “refer to, indicate, or undisclosed, false or otherwise inaccurate information” about Trump’s reported assets, liabilities or income. , as well as any related communications that information was incomplete, inaccurate, or “otherwise unsatisfactory.”

The court also upheld the subpoena for documents related to his federal hotel lease from Trump’s November 2016 election through 2018, but only from the company holding the lease, Trump Old Post Office LLC. Finally, the appeals court agreed that the House should remove all 2017 and 2018 documents relating to financial ties or transactions between Trump or any Trump entity and “any foreign state or foreign state agency, the United States, any federal agency, any state or a government agency or individual government official.”

The commission, according to the court, has “collected detailed evidence of suspected misrepresentations and omissions” in Trump’s required disclosure forms, and provided “detailed and substantial” explanations about how his financial disclosures, government contracts and acceptance of foreign gifts as president could inform changes. in federal law intended to protect taxpayers and police conflicts of interest between political office holders.

“If the level of evidence presented here by the committee is not sufficient to obtain a limited subset of the former president’s information, we doubt that a Congress could obtain a president’s papers,” the judges wrote. , adding that “disclosures required to prevent presidents from engaging in self-handling and other conflicts of interest is certainly a legitimate legislative goal.”

“Former President Donald Trump showed an unprecedented disregard for federal ethics and financial transparency,” said House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.) in a written statement. She said that while it was “disappointing that the Court limited the subpoena in some respects,” she was pleased that it “maintained key elements of the commission’s subpoena, affirmed our authority to obtain documents from Mazars, and affirmed the false arguments of Mazars.” former President Trump rejected that Congress would not investigate his financial misconduct.”

Trump attorneys at the law firm Consovoy McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Friday’s ruling downplayed a similar August 2021 decision by the trial judge in the case. U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta limited documents lawmakers could obtain to a broader set of personal financial information about Trump from 2017 and 2018, when he was president, and data related to his Washington hotel rental and emoluments clause legislation.

The courts acted after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in July 2020, it affirmed Congress’ general authority to issue subpoenas for a president’s personal financial information, but ruled in a 7-to-2 opinion that subpoenas from Congress requesting information from a president , “no wider than is reasonably necessary” and sent the question back to lower courts to work out the standard.

The matter was not resolved until Congressional term expired in January 2020, but the newly elected House, still under Democratic control, renewed its request in February 2021.

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

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