July 3, 2019 / 6:52 PM / 3 months ago

Factbox: Clash between Trump, U.S. House Democrats shifts into courts

(Reuters) - U.S. House Democrats this week sued the Trump administration to demand President Donald Trump’s individual and business tax returns after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused a legal request and defied two congressional subpoenas.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at El Paso County Coliseum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

The House Ways and Means Committee lawsuit is the latest action as the Democratically controlled chamber pursues multiple investigations into the Republican president, his family and businesses.

Some of the House Democrats’ probes, which cover Russian interference, security clearances and Trump’s finances among other issues, are beginning to move from Capitol Hill to the U.S. courts. Democrats say their probes are needed to hold to account a president who scorns respect for the law and governing norms.

Trump and most of his fellow Republicans dismiss the Democrats’ inquiries as grandstanding or political harassment. Trump and his advisers run the legal risk of contempt of Congress citations and court enforcement actions that could result in fines.

Here are some of the conflicts between Congress and Trump that are being litigated or could end up in court.

TAX RETURNS

Unlike past presidents in recent decades, Trump refuses to make public his tax returns, raising questions about what is in them. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has defied a subpoena from the House tax committee seeking six years of Trump’s past individual and business tax returns.

The House Ways and Means panel, led by Richard Neal, sued the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service on July 2 to enforce the subpoena. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said the administration would file its response in court.

Trump’s Justice Department said in a June 14 legal opinion that Mnuchin did not violate the law by refusing to turn over the tax returns. A judge could opt to ignore that Justice Department memo in the event of a legal battle.

MAZARS ACCOUNTING FIRM

In a win for House Democrats, a federal judge on May 20 said Mazars LLP, Trump’s long-time accounting firm, should hand over Trump’s financial records to congressional investigators.

Lawyers for Trump asserted that a subpoena seeking the records was unlawful because Congress was improperly taking on a law enforcement role.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee said they needed the documents to examine whether Trump faces conflicts of interest or broke the law by not disentangling himself from his businesses as previous presidents have done.

Trump called the judge’s decision “crazy” and appealed. An appeals court will hold an oral argument on July 12.

DEUTSCHE BANK, CAPITAL ONE

Another judge ruled against Trump in a similar case involving banks that Trump did business with - Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial.

Two House committees sent subpoenas to the banks and, as in the Mazars case, Trump sued to try to block them, arguing that the committees were reaching beyond their legislative role.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in New York said Congress has the legal authority to demand the records, clearing the way for the banks to comply with the subpoenas.

The Deutsche Bank subpoena seeks accounts, transactions and investments linked to Trump, his three oldest children, their immediate family and several Trump Organization entities, as well as records of ties they might have to foreign entities.

Deutsche Bank has long been a principal lender for Trump’s real estate business. A 2017 disclosure form showed that Trump had at least $130 million of liabilities to the bank.

The Capital One subpoena seeks records related to the Trump Organization’s hotel business, which some Democrats have argued raises potential conflicts of interest.

An appeals court will hold oral arguments in August.

MUELLER REPORT

Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version on April 18 of a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller on his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor and Trump’s attempt to impede that probe.

The redactions left unanswered some key questions about Mueller’s probe. Seeking answers, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has subpoenaed the unredacted report and the evidence that Mueller relied on.

The White House has asserted the seldom-used principle of executive privilege to keep the full Mueller report under wraps.

On June 10, Nadler cut a deal with Barr to allow committee members to view some of the materials they want, avoiding a court showdown. But Nadler said he would not rule out suing Barr if the Justice Department does not continue to cooperate.

A similar May 22 agreement gave the House Intelligence Committee access to counterintelligence materials underlying Mueller’s report.

Mueller is scheduled to testify about his report on July 17.

CENSUS AND CITIZENSHIP

Trump on June 12 asserted executive privilege to keep under wraps documents related to his administration’s push to add a citizenship question to the census, defying a subpoena from the Democratic-led House Oversight Committee.

That same day, the committee voted to recommend the full House find Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for their refusal to produce the documents. The committee moved to seek a contempt citation against the two in a June 25 report.

Separately, a group of states and immigration rights organizations had challenged the citizenship question in a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation’s top court ruled June 27 against the Trump administration in a decision that Trump rejected.

EMOLUMENTS

In 2017, a group of congressional Democrats sued Trump in Washington for allegedly accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments through his businesses, a violation of the anti-corruption Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution.

In June, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected a request by Trump administration lawyers to halt the case and let them file an expedited appeal of key preliminary rulings he issued against the president. The judge had earlier denied Trump’s request to dismiss the case.

A similar case, filed by the Democratic attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland, is making its way through the courts. An appeals court heard oral arguments in March over whether that case should have been allowed to proceed.

The Justice Department has argued Democrats are reading the Emoluments Clauses too broadly and that there is nothing new or illegal about a president engaging in commercial transactions.

EX-WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL MCGAHN

Nadler has said he may begin legal proceedings to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee’s probe into whether Trump obstructed justice. McGahn failed to show up to testify at a May 21 hearing, having been told by the White House not to produce documents in response to a committee subpoena.

McGahn was the most-cited witness in Mueller’s report, recounting Trump’s efforts to interfere with the investigation.

The House approved a measure on June 11 that authorized Nadler to take legal action to enforce the subpoena to McGahn. Annie Donaldson, McGahn’s former chief of staff, has agreed to testify.

Compiled by Jan Wolfe, Caroline Stauffer and Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Lisa Shumaker and Chizu Nomiyama

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