First court test arrives in Trump-U.S. House showdown over probes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal court on Tuesday for the first time heard arguments in an intensifying dispute between the U.S. House of Representatives and President Donald Trump, who is stonewalling multiple probes led by Democratic lawmakers of himself and his businesses.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington will decide whether Mazars LLP, Trump’s long-time accounting firm, must comply with a House Oversight Committee subpoena seeking financial records for Trump and his company.

At the outset of the hearing, Mehta said that he would not be issuing a ruling on the matter on Tuesday.

“My decision will be issued promptly, but it will be issued on a timeline that reflects the gravity of the issues presented,” he said.

In an aggressive response to congressional oversight, Trump is refusing to cooperate with any of the probes. Their targets range from his tax returns and policy decisions to his Washington hotel and his children’s security clearances.

The House Oversight Committee claims sweeping investigative power and says it needs Trump’s financial records to examine whether he has conflicts of interest or broke the law by not disentangling himself from his business holdings as previous presidents did.

Lawyers for Trump and the Trump Organization, his company, last month filed a lawsuit to block the committee’s subpoena, saying it exceeded Congress’ constitutional limits.

Trump’s lawyers argued that Congress is on a quest to “turn up something that Democrats can use as a political tool against the president now and in the 2020 election.”

On Monday, the Republican president’s attorneys objected to Mehta’s plan to fast-track the lawsuit by holding a trial on Tuesday, saying that would deny Trump a “full and fair” hearing.

Whatever the outcome, Mehta’s ruling will almost certainly be appealed to a higher court.

Mehta was appointed in 2014 by former Democratic President Barack Obama, who was investigated almost non-stop by Republicans in Congress during his two terms in office.

Mazars has avoided taking sides in the dispute and said it will “comply with all legal obligations.”

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the White House Iftar dinner in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Trump’s challenge of the Mazars subpoena was his first effort to quash the multiple House inquiries. He has also sued over subpoenas for his financial records sent to Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp.

Some legal experts have said Trump’s lawsuits are unlikely to succeed. They said Congress has broad power to issue subpoenas, so long as documents requested can help it legislate, and that courts are reluctant to second-guess its motivations.

Some Democratic Party leaders have argued that Trump’s stonewalling represents a “constitutional crisis” and could force them to begin impeachment proceedings to remove him from office, even though such an effort would likely fail in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; writing by Jan Wolfe and James Oliphant; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Alistair Bell

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