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Federal judge smacks down Trump’s resistance to congressional oversight

Well, at least one judge still cares about what the law says.

CREDIT: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images
CREDIT: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A federal judge ruled against President Donald Trump’s massive resistance to congressional oversight on Monday, holding that the president’s accounting firm must turn over many of Trump’s financial records to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Just as significantly, Judge Amit Mehta denied Trump’s request for a stay while Mehta’s decision is on appeal. The practical result of this decision is that the House committee will be able to enforce its subpoena in seven days unless a higher court intervenes.

As Mehta explained, Trump’s arguments against the subpoena have no basis in law. While Mehta conceded that “there are limits on Congress’s investigative authority,” these limits “do not substantially constrain Congress.” Rather, “so long as Congress investigates on a subject matter on which ‘legislation could be had,’ Congress acts as contemplated by Article I of the Constitution.”

Among other things, the Oversight Committee explained that “the requested records will aid its consideration of strengthening ethics and disclosure laws, as well as amending the penalties for violating such laws.” That alone is enough to justify the subpoena in this case.

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Additionally, Mehta wrote that Congress also has an “informing function” which, as the Supreme Court explained in a 1957 opinion, permits “Congress to inquire into and publicize corruption, maladministration or inefficiency in agencies of the Government.”

As the documents Congress seeks will also “assist in monitoring the President’s compliance with the Foreign Emoluments Clauses” of the Constitution, that also provides a legitimate basis for Congress to seek Trump’s financial records.

Indeed, courts are required to be extraordinarily deferential to congressional oversight. As the Supreme Court held in a 1960 decision, “only an investigative demand that is ‘plainly incompetent or irrelevant to any lawful purpose of the [committee] in the discharge of its duties’ will fail to pass muster.”

So the law prevailed Monday in Judge Mehta’s courtroom. And, should higher courts follow existing law, Trump’s accounting firm will soon comply with the subpoena.

The only serious question is whether a Supreme Court dominated by hardline conservatives will bail out Trump and ignore its own precedents.