Two Federal Appellate Courts Uphold Subpoenas for Trump Accounting Records  (Updated 11/22/19)   

Over the last two weeks two federal appellate courts have upheld different subpoenas to the Mazars USA accounting firm for records relating to Donald J. Trump.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

As discussed in a prior post, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on October 11, 2019, upheld (2-1) a subpoena by an U.S. House of Representatives committee to Mazars for certain Trump accounting records.

A month later, on November 13, that court denied, 8-3, Trump’s motion for the full (en banc) court to review that decision of the three-judge panel.[1] As is typical, there was no opinion by the eight judges denying the motion. However, two of the three dissenting judges, wrote opinions.

Judge Gregory Katsas joined by Judge Karen Henderson, said, “this case presents exceptionally important questions regarding the separation of powers among Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary. For the second time in American history, an Article III court has undertaken to enforce a congressional subpoena for the records of a sitting President. The first time this was attempted with then President Nixon, this court refused to enforce the subpoena, stressing “the availability of impeachment foreclosed any conclusion that the records at issue were ‘demonstrably critical to the responsible fulfillment’ of Congress’s legislative prerogatives, even when Congress was investigating significant allegations of presidential misconduct. Senate Select Comm. on Presidential Campaign Activities v. Nixon, 498 F.2d 725, 731–33 (D.C. Cir. 1974) (en banc).”

The other dissenting opinion, by Judge Neomi Rao, who also was joined by Judge Henderson, emphasized that this subpoena was not really justifiable by the congressional power to enact new laws. It was really a subpoena looking for impeachable offenses, which is not part of the legislative power.

Afterwards an attorney for Trump said that he would now petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

And on November 15, his attorneys did just that by asking Chief Justice John Roberts, who is responsible for emergency requests from the D.C. Circuit, for a stay of proceedings while the Supreme Court considers his petition for review of the merits of the lower court’s decision. This request argued for such a stay for the following reasons: (I) “There is a reasonable probability that the Court will grant certiorari to determine whether the Committee’s subpoena is lawful.” (II) “There is a fair prospect that this Court will reverse the D.C. Circuit’s decision upholding the subpoena.” (III) “Applicants will suffer irreparable harm without a stay.” (IV) “The balance of equities and relative harms weigh strongly in favor of granting a stay.” [2]

On November 18, the attorneys for the House Committee filed a letter with the Supreme Court announcing that they planned to file an opposition to the requested stay on November 22, but that out of courtesy to the Court the Committee does not oppose “a short ten-day administrative stay, beginning on November 20, 2019, to enable the Court to receive an opposition by the Committee and then rule on the request for a stay. Thereafter the same day, Chief Justice Roberts ordered “that the mandate of . . . [the D.C. Circuit] is hereby stayed pending receipt of a response, due on or before Thursday, November 21, 2019, by 3 p.m. ET, and further order of the undersigned or of the Court.”[3]

One of Trump’s attorneys, William S. Consovoy, “said the Supreme Court’s intervention was imperative. Under the lower court’s decision, ‘any committee of Congress can subpoena any personal information from the President; all the committee needs to say is that it’s considering legislation that would force Presidents to disclose that same information. Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of Presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government — no matter which party is in power. If every committee chairman is going to have this unbounded authority, this Court should be the one to say so.”

In accordance with that order, the House Committee on November 21 submitted its opposition to the Trump motion. It argued that the Court’s precedents involving Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton make clear that the chief executive enjoys no special privilege to be free from investigation or legal action and that a stay would cause irreparable harm to the Congress and the public, outweighing whatever harm enforcement of the subpoena would cause Trump and Mazars. The House Committee also argued that if the Court agrees to a stay of a lower court’s order, the Court should expedite a decision on whether to order a full briefing and a hearing on the case.[4]

Second Circuit Court of Appeals

Such a petition to the Supreme Court would join a similar one by Trump from a November 4 unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City upholding a state grand jury subpoena for accounting records from the Mazars firm relating to a probe into whether the accounting for payments Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to two women violated state laws against falsifying business documents. .[5]

During the oral appellate argument of this case, one of the judges asked the Trump attorney if local authorities could investigate President Trump if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and the attorney said the authorities could not so investigate.

After the Second Circuit’s decision, Jay Sekulow, an attorney for Trump, said that Trump would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case because, he claimed, ““The issue raised in this case goes to the heart of our republic. The constitutional issues are significant.”

In fact, on November 14, Trump petitioned the Supreme Court for a review of the following issues in this case: (I) “Whether the President is absolutely immune is an important and unsettled issue of federal law that the Court should resolve” and (II)   “The Second Circuit incorrectly decided this important immunity question.” The petition also alleged, “For the first time in our nation’s history, a state or local prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation of the President of the United States and subjected him to coercive criminal process. . . . Politically motivated subpoenas like this one are a perfect illustration of why a sitting president should be categorically immune from state criminal process.”[6]

In a contemporaneous statement, Sekelow stated, “”The Second Circuit decision is wrong and should be reversed. In our petition, we assert that the subpoena violates the U.S. Constitution and therefore is unenforceable. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant review in this significant constitutional case and reverse the dangerous and damaging decision of the appeals court.”

The Department of Justice also filed with the Supreme Court an amicus brief supporting Trump’s petition while saying that there are instances when a local prosecutor might legally seek a president’s documents — but that this was not one of them.[7]

Trump filed this petition so immediately because of his attorneys’ agreement with the New York prosecuting attorneys whereby the latter “agreed not to seek the tax returns until the case is resolved by the Supreme Court” so long as Trump agreed to “a very quick briefing schedule, one that would allow the Supreme Court to announce whether it will hear the case as soon as next month and to issue a decision by June, as the presidential election enters its final stages.”

Conclusion

Now the parties to these cases will be joined by all of us in the U.S. and elsewhere for the briefing on whether the Supreme Court should grant such review, the Court’s decision on these petitions and, if review is granted, the briefing and oral arguments in that court and its ultimate decision (in the midst of the 2020 presidential campaign).

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[1]  Order, Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP and Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, No. 19-5142 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 13, 2019); Savage, Court Rejects Trump’s Appeal in Fight to Keep Financial Records from Congress, N.Y. Times (Nov. 13, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Appeals Court Again Backs House Request for Trump Tax Documents, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2019).

[2] Emergency Application for a Stay of Mandate Pending the Filing and Disposition of a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, No. 19A545 (Nov. 15, 2019); Liptak, Trump Again Asks Supreme Court to Block Release of His Financial Records, N.Y. Times (Nov. 15, 2019); Hurley & Freifeld, Trump asks Supreme Court to block disclosure of financial records to Congress, Reuters (Nov. 15, 2019); Barnes & Marimow, Trump appeals to Supreme Court again, this time to block House committee’s subpoena seeking his financial records, Wash. Post (Nov. 15, 2019).

[3] Letter, House Committee to Clerk of Supreme Court, Trump v. Mazars USA, No. 19A545 (Nov. 18, 2019); Order, Trump v. Mazars USA, No. 19A545 (Nov. 18, 2019) Trump v. Mazars USA, No. 19A545 (Nov. 18, 2019); Barnes, Supreme Court puts temporary hold on Trump financial records ruling, Wash. Post (Nov. 18, 2019); Liptak, Chief Justice Gives Trump Temporary Reprieve in Financial Records Case, N.Y. Times (Nov. 18, 2019).

[4] Barnes, Supreme court precedents do not shield Trump financial records, House, prosecutors argue, Wash. Post (Nov. 21, 2019); Reuters, Democrats Urge U.S. Supreme Court Not to Protect Trump Financial Records, N.Y. Times (Nov. 21, 2019); House Committee, Opposition to Emergency Application for a Stay of Mandate, No. 19A545 (Sup. Ct. Nov. 21, 2019).

[5] Opinion, Trump v. Vance, No. 19-3204 (2d Cir. Nov. 4, 2019); Weiser & Liptak, Trump Taxes: Appeals Court Rules President Must Turn Over 8 Years of Tax Returns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2019); Neumeister, Appeals court agrees Trump tax returns can be turned over, Wash. Post (Nov. 4, 2019).

[6] Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Trump v. Vance, No. —- (U.S. Sup Ct. Nov. 14, 2019); Liptak, Trump Asks Supreme Court to Bar Release of His Tax Returns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2019); Barnes & Marimow, Trump asks Supreme Court to shield his tax returns from prosecutors, setting up historic separation-of-powers showdown, Wash. Post (Nov. 14, 2019); Bravin, Kendall & Ramey, Trump Asks Supreme Court to Block New York Subpoena for Tax Records, W.S.J. (Nov. 14, 2019); Samuelson & Gerstein, Trump lawyers take fight over tax returns to Supreme Court, Politico (Nov. 14, 2019); deVogue, Trump asks Supreme Court to block subpoena for tax returns, CNN.com (Nov. 14, 2019).

[7] Barnes, Supreme court precedents do not shield Trump financial records, House, prosecutors argue, Wash. Post (Nov. 21, 2019); Reuters, Democrats Urge U.S. Supreme Court Not to Protect Trump Financial Records, N.Y. Times (Nov. 21, 2019); Liptak, Justice Dept. Urges Supreme Court to Back Trump in Tax Records Case, N.Y. Times (Nov. 22, 2019); Vance, Jr.,  Brief in Opposition, No. 19-635 (Sup. Ct. Nov. 21, 2019).

 

 

 

 

Two Federal Appellate Courts Uphold Subpoenas for Trump Accounting Records

Over the last two weeks two federal appellate courts have upheld different subpoenas to the Mazars USA accounting firm for accounting records relating to Donald J. Trump.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

As discussed in a prior post, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on October 11, 2019, upheld (2-1) in an opinion by Judge David S. Tatel a subpoena by an U.S. House of Representatives committee to Mazars, USA for certain accounting records of Donald J. Trump.

A month later, on November 13, that court denied, 8-3, Trump’s motion for the full (en banc) court to review that decision of the three-judge panel.[1] As is typical, there was no opinion by the eight judges denying the motion. However, two of the three dissenting judges, wrote opinions.

Judge Gregory Katsas joined by Judge Karen Henderson, said, “this case presents exceptionally important questions regarding the separation of powers among Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary. For the second time in American history, an Article III court has undertaken to enforce a congressional subpoena for the records of a sitting President. The first time this was attempted with then President Nixon, this court refused to enforce the subpoena, stressing “the availability of impeachment foreclosed any conclusion that the records at issue were ‘demonstrably critical to the responsible fulfillment’ of Congress’s legislative prerogatives, even when Congress was investigating significant allegations of presidential misconduct. Senate Select Comm. on Presidential Campaign Activities v. Nixon, 498 F.2d 725, 731–33 (D.C. Cir. 1974) (en banc).”

The other dissenting opinion, by Judge Neomi Rao, who also was joined by Judge Henderson, emphasized that this subpoena was not really justifiable by the congressional power to enact new laws. It was really a subpoena looking for impeachable offenses, which is not part of the legislative power.

Afterwards an attorney for Trump said that he would now petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Second Circuit Court of Appeals

Such a petition would join a similar one by Trump from a November 4 unanimous decision by Chief Judge Robert Katzmann for a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City upholding a subpoena by the District Attorney of the County of New York in Manhattan for similar accounting records from the Mazars accounting firm.[2]  During the oral argument of this case, one of the judges asked the Trump attorney if local authorities could investigate President Trump if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and the attorney said the authorities could not so investigate.

After that decision, Jay Sekulow, an attorney for Trump, said that Trump would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case because, he claimed, ““The issue raised in this case goes to the heart of our republic. The constitutional issues are significant.”

Conclusion

Now the parties to these cases will be joined by all of us in the U.S. and elsewhere for the briefing on whether the Supreme Court should grant such review, the Court’s decision on these petitions and, if review is granted, the briefing and oral arguments in that court and its ultimate decision (in the midst of the 2020 presidential campaign).

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[1]  Order, Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, No. 19-5142 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 13, 2019); Savage, Court Rejects Trump’s Appeal in Fight to Keep Financial Records from Congress, N.Y. Times (Nov. 13, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Appeals Court Again Backs House Request for Trump Tax Documents, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2019).

[2] Opinion, Trump v. Vance, No. 19-3204 (2d Cir. Nov. 4, 2019); Weiser & Liptak, Trump Taxes: Appeals Court Rules President Must Turn Over 8 Years of Tax Returns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 4, 2019); Neumeister, Appeals court agrees Trump tax returns can be turned over, Wash. Post (Nov. 4, 2019)