Trump So Busy Fighting Merrick Garland He Can't Fight Congress
This morning the House Oversight Committee announced that it will finally, finally get its hands on Donald Trump's financial records. And it only took three bloody years!
"After numerous court victories, I am pleased that my Committee has now reached an agreement to obtain key financial documents that former President Trump fought for years to hide from Congress," Chair Carolyn Maloney said this morning.
Trump's decision to finally tap out, a full two years after the Supreme Court rejected his screeching about the president's magic invisibility cloak of total immunity, marks an end to a battle that has raged virtually every second since Democrats took back the House in 2019. In February of that year, Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney and fixer, gave Congress partial financial statements prepared for Trump by the accounting firm Mazars USA, LLP, which appeared to show conflicting representations to lenders about his assets. After an informal request the following month, the House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena in April of 2019 to the company for all the then-president's financial records on the grounds that they were relevant to federal ethics laws, since Uncle Sam was the landlord for Trump's DC hotel.
In July 2020, after some extremely odd Zoom shrieking by Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow, the Supreme Court issued a ruling delineating what has come to be known as "The Mazars Test" for evaluating congressional subpoenas relating to a sitting president. If Congress wants to subpoena the president personally, then it must satisfy a four-part test demonstrating that:
- It is necessary to demand this information from the president herself because no "other sources could reasonably provide Congress the information it needs in light of its particular legislative objective";
- The subpoena is "no broader than reasonably necessary";
- The subpoena "advances a valid legislative purpose"; and
- That complying with the subpoena is not overly burdensome, "particularly because they stem from a rival political branch that has an ongoing relationship with the President and incentives to use subpoenas for institutional advantage."
Along the way, Mazars broke up with Trump and disavowed a decade's worth of financial statements, saying they "should no longer be relied upon and you should inform any recipients thereof who are currently relying upon one or more of those documents that those documents should not be relied upon." Which is not great, Bob.
And today Trump finally agreed to quit throwing his stupid tantrum so Mazars could hand over the subpoenaed documents.
"Under the agreement reached by the Committee, former President Trump has agreed not to further appeal the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, and Mazars USA has agreed to comply with the court’s order and produce responsive documents to the Committee as expeditiously as possible," the committee said in a statement on its website.
So, after all this time, does it matter? The subpoena was two impeachments, one insurrection, one federal search warrant, and hundreds of pages of purloined classified documents ago — not to mention the Mueller Report. Trump appears to have escaped criminal prosecution by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and his company is likely to get off with a slap on the wrist for effectively paying executive Alan Weisselberg under the table. So many of those things that we obsessed about for four years (it me, Mueller comin'!) failed to move the needle, much less bring the old crook to justice. Right now, he's closer than he ever has been to facing serious legal consequences for his crimes, thanks to Attorney General Merrick Garland. (Who had that one on their prediction list, right?)
Maybe the real friends were the tax returns we sued for along the way?
Or, no, that's too glib. Maybe the "win" is that eventually the Supreme Court agreed that no one is above the law and put the kibosh on this issue for any future president who wants to behave like a dictator. Maybe the lesson we all learned is that these norms that we all took for granted are fragile, and no one has the luxury of tuning out the news because "ugh, politics." Maybe it was less important to "get" Trump than for us all to wake the fuck up and realize that we had to come out swinging or we'd lose our democracy. Which we did, in 2020.
It was a long, dispiriting four years. But we made it to the other side.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.