If this is a war, then Donald Trump might need new generals. For the second time in three days, a federal judge has allowed Congress to subpoena Trump’s financial partners to gain access to his records. Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled that Trump was unlikely to succeed in his lawsuit to prevent two banks from complying with congressional subpoenas and declined to enter a restraining order preventing it:
A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a request by President Trump to block congressional subpoenas for his banking records, dealing the latest blow to the president in his bid to battle Democratic investigations into his personal finances.
The decision in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York could clear the way for Deutsche Bank and Capital One to hand over the president’s financial records to Democrats in the House. Trump’s attorneys could appeal the decision.
Attorneys for Trump, his family and the Trump Organization filed for a preliminary injunction earlier this month as part of a lawsuit seeking to block the two institutions from handing over documents to the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees.
“There will be no way to unring the bell once the Banks give Congress the requested information,” William S. Consovoy, Patrick Strawbridge and Marc Mukasey wrote. “The Committees will have reviewed confidential documents that this Court may later determine were illegally subpoenaed.”
If you’re scoring such things, Ramos was also appointed by Barack Obama to the court, as was Judge Amit Mehta, who ruled in a similar case on Monday. It doesn’t seem to be terribly consequential to the rulings, but Trump made an issue of it with Mehta. As of this writing, Trump has yet to comment on Twitter about Ramos’ ruling, but don’t be surprised if Ramos’ appointment comes up as part of his criticism.
Ramos ruled that the subpoenas were wide ranging but within congressional authority, echoing a similar ruling from Mehta on Monday:
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos said he disagrees with the arguments from the Trump family attorneys that the subpoenas don’t have a legitimate legislative purpose.
Ramos described the subpoenas as “undeniably broad” but “clearly pertinent.”
That also invokes Watkins, at least implicitly, the same court case that Mehta explicitly referenced in his ruling. Watkins limits congressional investigative authority to legitimate legislative interests, which can be defined as anything on which the legislature can legitimately cast a vote. Since Congress is prevented by the Constitution from passing bills of attainder, its ability to seek these kinds of records from private individuals is very limited. However, since Congress can conceivably cast a vote on impeachment, Trump’s records are reviewable.
At least, that’s what Mehta and Ramos have decided. This will get appealed immediately before the two banks have a chance to comply with the subpoenas, and maybe as soon as today or tomorrow. Trump’s attorneys will urge the appellate court to look at these subpoenas as a whole to determine whether Congress actually has a legitimate legislative motive, or whether they are using their power in an illegitimate manner for purely partisan motives. The higher up this goes, the more likely the courts will take a broader view of the conflict.
More likely doesn’t necessarily equate to actually likely, however. The courts will almost certainly prefer to take a narrow view to avoid getting pulled into a political feud. That means judging each set of subpoenas on their own merits, and letting voters settle the political feud in 2020. Trump’s team had better start thinking about how they want to set expectations for when these records get made public, which again might require a different set of generals for a much different kind of war.
The long term consequence of this will be that no outsider will run for president ever again. And it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that this very outcome is at least a small part of the motivation driving this circus.