WASHINGTON (CN) — A lawyer for President Donald Trump faced an uphill battle Friday in trying to secure a D.C. Circuit reversal of an order that lets the House subpoena Trump’s financial records.
U.S. Circuit Judge Patricia Millet, an Obama appointee, was particularly critical of the appeal mounted by William Consovoy, a lawyer for Trump with the firm Consovoy McCarthy.
“I think I have heard you say that, when it comes to the president, unlike individuals, unlike anyone else in the government, Congress can get no information and can’t ask questions,” Millet said. “They can’t check to see whether anything is being executed properly or whether taxpayer funds are being wasted on too expensive furniture.”
Consovoy denied that was his claim but failed to give Millet an answer as to how Congress can use its investigative power to expose corruption.
The hearing follows a decision in May by a federal judge that clears the way for the Committee on Oversight and Government Ethics to subpoena Trump’s personal accountants at Mazar USA LLC for eight years of financial records.
Consovoy implored the court not to be naive, pointing to a memorandum from Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings that says the subpoena is meant to assess if the president engaged in illegal conduct.
U.S. Circuit Judge David Tatel pressed Consovoy meanwhile on the other legislative goals Cummings’ memo outlined, pointing to various new bills on ethics and financial disclosure coming out of the House.
“These bills have passed the House and they are directly related to the subject of the subpoena,” said Tatel. “Do we just ignore those?”
Consovoy said the committee had no legitimate legislative authority to seek the documents from Mazars and that the subpoena directly targets the office of the president.
“When it comes to the president, the office and the person are one and the same,” Consovoy said. “It is impossible to distinguish between the two.”
Judge Millet meanwhile undercut the claim that the committee’s subpoena would prevent Trump from carrying out his duties by noting that the only party responsible for responding to the subpoena is Mazars.
“Why is the Department of Justice not here participating to protect the office of the president if that’s the primary basis of your argument?” Millet asked.
House attorney Douglas Letter made a similar point, saying the subpoena of a third party would have no impact on the president’s ability to operate effectively from the Oval Office.
With Letter, the panel broached the issue of the emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from receiving gifts from foreign or state governments or officials while in office without congressional consent.
“I have got it in my notes with a big red star by it,” Letter said.
Tatel, a Clinton appointee, looked to Letter to explain why the House needed the documents from Mazars instead of accessing them through the General Services Administration. But Letter said Mazars would offer a better window into the full state of the president’s multifold assets.
This comes into play, Letter said, in determining if Trump violated the domestic emoluments clause by leasing the Old Post Office Pavilion, a federal building, to house his hotel. Under the Trump administration, the GSA already ruled the deal was in compliance.
Later in the hearing, the committee pressed Letter on whether he would call the House’s actions unprecedented.
Though he could not provide a modern example of either congressional chamber subpoenaing the president, Letter said Trump had set in motion the subpoena battle when he refused to submit financial disclosure forms.
“He put himself in this position — we can’t forget that,” Letter said, reiterating that the House wanted Mazars and not the president himself to turn over the records.