President Donald Trump‘s desperate attempt to keep House Democrats from getting their hands on his personal financial information escalated Tuesday, as the president’s own Department of Justice weighed in on an ongoing legal battle over a House subpoena. The president and his personal lawyers have been fighting the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena to Trump’s accounting firm Mazars USA for months now, and are currently appealing a recent court decision made in Congress’s favor. In an amicus brief filed Tuesday, the Justice Department shared their thoughts on the matter—and in an unsurprising twist, they’re taking the president’s side.
The department argued in the court document that the House subpoena amounted to little more than presidential harassment, claiming the subpoena serves no “legitimate legislative purpose.” ”A congressional demand for the President’s personal records raises the specter that members of the Legislative Branch are impermissibly attempting to interfere with or harass the Head of the Executive Branch, or at least that the subpoena will have that effect, especially given the possibility of a multitude of such subpoenas,” the filing asserts. “The House’s recent blank-check authorization of all existing and future subpoenas concerning the President underscores the need for this Court to require the House itself to provide a clear explanation of the purpose of this specific subpoena.” The Justice Department also frets that the subpoena could unnecessarily “burden” Trump, even though it is directed at his accounting firm rather than him personally. “Unlike investigations in criminal and civil proceedings, which are confined to discrete controversies and subject to various protective measures, congressional committees may issue successive subpoenas in waves, making far-reaching demands that harry the President and distract his attention,” the Justice Department’s attorneys note. The arguments echo those being made by the president’s personal legal team, who claimed in Trump’s initial lawsuit that House Democrats “are singularly obsessed with finding something they can use to damage the President politically” and that the subpoena “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
Trump and the DOJ’s arguments, of course, have already been struck down in court by Obama-appointed Judge Amit Mehta, who ruled in May that the House committee did have legal standing to issue the subpoena. Mehta’s ruling cited that the committee means to use the financial information to “aid its consideration of strengthening ethics and disclosure laws,” as well as help monitor whether Trump is complying with the Foreign Emoluments Clause. “It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct—past or present—even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry,” Mehta wrote. “Congress plainly views itself as having sweeping authority to investigate illegal conduct of a President, before and after taking office. This court is not prepared to roll back the tide of history.” The D.C. Circuit, which recently heard arguments in the case’s appeal, appeared similarly sympathetic toward the House committee’s efforts, save for the panel’s sole Trump-appointed judge.
The Department of Justice’s interference in the subpoena saga, which was done at the appeals court judges’ behest, marks the first time the department has waded into the president’s personal legal battle. With Attorney General William Barr, a proven Trump sycophant, at the helm, it’s no surprise that the department came rushing to Trump’s defense—and given what the Mazars information reportedly may contain, their efforts, if successful, could help the president do some serious damage control. According to a March report in the Washington Post, the president’s financial records at Mazars were reportedly so full of obvious lies—including adding an extra 10 stories to Trump Tower—that they were accompanied by actual warning labels. “The documents begin with two-page disclaimers, warning of various ways in which the statements don’t follow normal accounting rules,” the Post reported, adding that the disclaimers ended by emphasizing, “‘Users of this financial statement should recognize that they might reach different conclusions about the financial condition of Donald J. Trump’ if they had more information.”