Court Hints at a Range of Paths in Fight Over Trump Records
An appeals court panel hearing one of President Trump’s bids to keep his finances under wraps signaled Friday that the subpoenas issued by two House committees did not necessarily have to be all or nothing.
“We hear lots of appeals where one side says, ‘We want it all,’ and the other side says, ‘You don’t get any of it,’ but we’re not necessarily limited to those two options,” said Judge Jon O. Newman, one of the three judges on the panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
The arguments concerned subpoenas issued by two Democrat-controlled committees to Deutsche Bank and Capital One for years of records tied to Mr. Trump, his family and the Trump Organization. The House Financial Services Committee said it wanted the information to conduct a case study on money laundering in real estate, and the House Intelligence Committee said it wanted to know whether Mr. Trump’s financial dealings made him subject to foreign influence.
The subpoenas request documents related to Mr. Trump’s businesses, his in-laws, his children and even his grandchildren, which has prompted Mr. Trump’s lawyers to call them overly broad and lacking legislative purpose. They have also argued that the investigations amount to a law enforcement activity that is rightly the job of the Justice Department, which filed brief with the court this week offering the same view.
“I don’t think this type of subpoena supports a legislative inquiry,” Patrick Strawbridge, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, told the panel. “The only reason they have focused on these particular plaintiffs is because they want to investigate these plaintiffs.”
Lawyers on both sides acknowledged that some kind of compromise could be possible, but they appeared unlikely to give much ground.
Douglas Letter, a lawyer representing the congressional committees, said lawmakers would be willing to negotiate on narrowing the scope of the subpoenas to exclude records that could reveal sensitive information about people outside of the scope of their inquiries, such as low-level employees of Mr. Trump’s businesses. But, Mr. Letter said, it was necessary to review a broad swath of Mr. Trump’s documents.
“We are doing an extremely broad investigation,” Mr. Letter said, explaining the committees’ reasons for wanting to see Mr. Trump’s family members’ records as well. “Obviously if you’re laundering Russian money, moving it to the United States, you need to see how it’s handled domestically.”
Mr. Strawbridge told the judges several times throughout the hearing that he would be willing to negotiate a narrower records release, but when Judge Newman asked him which parts of the subpoenas the Trump family would be willing to allow, Mr. Strawbridge said he had not been authorized to negotiate at that moment.
The subpoenas, issued in April, went to Deutsche Bank, Mr. Trump’s primary lender over the past two decades, and Capital One, where he has kept some of his money. Mr. Trump, his company and his three eldest children — Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka — filed a lawsuit to block the banks from complying, but a federal judge denied the family’s request in May.
Judge Newman and the two other judges, Peter W. Hall and Debra Ann Livingston, are hearing the appeal, which is just one of the battles Mr. Trump is engaged in to keep his financial records private. He is also fighting a subpoena from another House committee to the accounting firm Mazars USA and has sued in an attempt to block the House from requesting his state tax returns from New York.
Mr. Trump’s tax returns have been a matter of intense curiosity since he declined to release them during the 2016 campaign, breaking with decades of candidate tradition. When the appeals panel asked lawyers for Deutsche Bank and Capital One whether the banks had Mr. Trump’s tax returns, the lawyers said would provide more information to the court via letter.
Judge Newman, who adjourned the hearing, did not indicate when the panel would issue a ruling.
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