940 F.3d 710 (D.C. Cir. 2019), 19-5142, Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP

Docket Nº:19-5142
Citation:940 F.3d 710
Opinion Judge:Tatel, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Donald J. TRUMP, et al., Appellants v. MAZARS USA, LLP and Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, Appellees
Attorney:William S. Consovoy, Arlington, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Cameron T. Norris and Stefan C. Passantino, Washington. Duane Morley Cox, pro se, filed the brief for amicus curiae Duane Morley Cox in support of appellants. Douglas N. Letter, General Counsel, U.S. Hous...
Judge Panel:Before: Tatel, Millett and Rao, Circuit Judges. RAO, Circuit Judge, dissenting:
Case Date:October 11, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
 
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940 F.3d 710 (D.C. Cir. 2019)

Donald J. TRUMP, et al., Appellants

v.

MAZARS USA, LLP and Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, Appellees

No. 19-5142

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

October 11, 2019

Argued July 12, 2019

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:19-cv-01136)

William S. Consovoy, Arlington, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Cameron T. Norris and Stefan C. Passantino, Washington.

Duane Morley Cox, pro se, filed the brief for amicus curiae Duane Morley Cox in support of appellants.

Douglas N. Letter, General Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives, argued the cause for appellee Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives. With him on the briefs were Todd B. Tatelman, Deputy General Counsel, Megan Barbero and Josephine Morse, Associate General Counsel, and Brooks M. Hanner, Assistant General Counsel.

Elizabeth B. Wydra, Francisco, Brianne J. Gorod, and Ashwin P. Phatak were on the brief for amicus curiae Constitutional Accountability Center in support of intervenor-defendant-appellee Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hashim M. Mooppan, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, and Mark R. Freeman, Scott R. McIntosh, and Gerard Sinzdak, Attorneys, were on the brief as amicus curiae The United States.

Before: Tatel, Millett and Rao, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Tatel, Circuit Judge:

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On April 15, 2019, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a subpoena to the accounting firm Mazars USA, LLP for records related to work performed for President Trump and several of his business entities both before and after he took office. According to the Committee, the documents will inform its investigation into whether Congress should amend or supplement current ethics-in-government laws. For his part, the President contends that the Committee’s investigation into his financial records serves no legitimate legislative purpose, and he has sued to prevent Mazars from complying with the subpoena. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Committee, and we affirm. Contrary to the President’s arguments, the Committee possesses authority under both the House Rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply.

I.

Shortly after the 116th Congress convened on January 3, 2019, the new U.S. House of Representatives debated and adopted a set of rules to govern its proceedings. See H.R. Res. 6, 116th Cong. (2019). Like previous Congresses, the 116th established an oversight committee, the Committee on Oversight and Reform, which it charged with "review[ing] and study[ing] on a continuing basis the operation of Government activities at all levels" and which it permitted to "conduct investigations" "at any time ... of any matter," "without regard to" other standing committees’ jurisdictions. Rules of the House of Representatives, 116th Cong., Rule X, cls. 3(i), 4(c)(2) (2019) ("House Rules"); see also id., cl. 1(n) (establishing the Committee on Oversight and Reform). To "carry[ ] out ... [these] functions and duties," the Oversight Committee may "require, by subpoena or otherwise ... the production of such ... documents as it considers necessary." House Rule XI, cl. 2(m).

This case concerns one such subpoena. Issued on April 15 by the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Representative Elijah Cummings, to President Trump’s accounting firm, the subpoena requests financial documents concerning the President and his companies covering years both before and during his presidency.

In order to explain the impetus behind the subpoena, we must go back to the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal, that statute requires many aspiring and

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current government officials, including presidential candidates and sitting Presidents, to file financial disclosure reports at various times during their candidacies and incumbencies. See 5 U.S.C. app. 4 § 101(a), (c), (d), (f) (requiring "a candidate ... for nomination or election to the office of President" and "the President" to "file a report containing the information described" in section 102 of the Act). In their initial reports, presidential candidates and new Presidents must provide information concerning their income, assets, liabilities, and employers. See id. § 102(b) (requiring "[e]ach report filed pursuant to subsections (a), (b), and (c) of section 101" to contain such information). Once in office, sitting Presidents must file annual reports disclosing that same information plus details about any covered gifts, real estate and securities transactions, and blind trusts. See id. § 102(a) (requiring "[e]ach report filed pursuant to section 101(d) and (e)" to contain such information). Presidential candidates submit their reports to the Federal Election Commission, see id. § 103(e), while incumbent Presidents file with the Office of Government Ethics, an "executive agency" tasked with "interpreting rules and regulations ... governing ... the filing of financial statements," id. § § 103(b), 401(a), 402(b)(3), 402(b)(6).

Last year, the Office of Government Ethics announced that it had identified an error in one of the several reports that President Trump had filed since he became a presidential candidate in 2015. Specifically, by letter dated May 16, 2018, the Acting Director of the Office of Government Ethics advised the Deputy Attorney General that, "based on the information provided" in President Trump’s 2018 financial disclosure report (covering calendar year 2017), he had determined that the President’s 2017 financial disclosure (covering calendar year 2016) omitted "a reportable liability under the Ethics in Government Act," namely, "a payment made by Mr. Michael Cohen," President Trump’s former personal lawyer, "to a third party." Letter from David J. Apol, Acting Director, Office of Government Ethics, to Rod J. Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice 1 (May 16, 2018) ("Apol Letter"). Because President Trump’s 2018 filing disclosed that in 2017 the President had reimbursed Cohen for the 2016 payment, the Acting Director concluded that "the payment made by Mr. Cohen [was] required to be reported as a liability" before it was reimbursed. Id. at 1; see also OGE Form 278e, 2017 Annual Report for Donald J. Trump, Part 8 n.3 (May 15, 2018), https://oge.app.box.com/v/Trump2018Annual278 (disclosing that "Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017").

Several months later, then-Ranking Member Cummings wrote to White House Counsel seeking documents related to President Trump’s payments to Cohen. See Letter from Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member, House Committee on Oversight and Reform, to Donald F. McGahn II, Counsel to the President, The White House, and George A. Sorial, Executive Vice President of the Trump Organization 4-5 (Sept. 12, 2018). That letter remained unanswered as of January 2019, when Representative Cummings, who in the intervening months had become Chairman Cummings, reiterated his request in a second letter. See Letter from Elijah E. Cummings, Chairman, House Committee on Oversight and Reform, to Pat Cipollone, Counsel to the President, The White House 1-2 (Jan. 8, 2019). Chairman Cummings also wrote to the new Director of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him, too, for "documents related to President Donald Trump’s reporting of debts and payments to his personal attorney, Michael Cohen." Letter from Elijah E.

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Cummings, Chairman, House Committee on Oversight and Reform, to Emory A. Rounds III, Director, Office of Government Ethics 1 (Jan. 22, 2019).

In February, White House Counsel responded that the President would consider permitting the Committee to review, on a limited basis, a subset of the requested documents, but Chairman Cummings rejected this proposal as inadequate. See Letter from Elijah E. Cummings, Chairman, House Committee on Oversight and Reform, to Pat Cipollone, Counsel to the President, The White House 1 (Feb. 15, 2019) ("Cummings Feb. 15 Letter") (stating that the Presidents offer to "consider providing Committee staff with the ability to review limited portions of two of the six categories of documents in camera " would "not obviate the need ... to fully comply" (internal quotation marks omitted)). Citing the Oversight Committees status as "the authorizing Committee for the Office of Government Ethics," the Presidents statutory obligation to "file ... public financial disclosure report[s]," and Congresss "plenary authority to legislate and...

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