NEW YORK - House Democrats can access President Donald Trump's private financial records from two banks, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, finding a "public interest" in refusing to block congressional subpoenas.
The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit comes in the ongoing legal battle Trump has waged to shield his private business records from disclosure - including in two cases that have already reached the Supreme Court.
The New York-based appeals court upheld Congress' broad investigative authority and ordered Deutsche Bank and Capital One to comply with the House subpoenas for the president's financial information. The court gave the president seven days to seek review by the Supreme Court in the case, which predates the public impeachment proceedings in the House.
In a 106-page ruling, the court said the House committees' "interests in pursuing their constitutional legislative function is a far more significant public interest than whatever public interest inheres in avoiding the risk of a Chief Executive's distraction arising from disclosure of documents reflecting his private financial transactions."
"The Committees have already been delayed in the receipt of the subpoenaed material since April 11 when the subpoenas were issued. They need the remaining time to analyze the material, hold hearings, and draft bills for possible enactment," according to the ruling written by Judge Jon Newman, who was joined by Judge Peter Hall.
The president's attorney Jay Sekulow said in a statement Tuesday that Trump's legal team believes the subpoenas are "invalid as issued" and is reviewing the ruling to determine next steps, "including seeking review at the Supreme Court."
In a statement, Deutsche Bank said, "We remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations and will abide by a court order regarding such investigations."
Capital One declined to comment.
The House Intelligence and Financial Services committees are seeking more than 10 years of financial records on Trump, his three oldest children - Eric, Donald Jr. and Ivanka - and Trump's businesses. The committees, led by Reps. Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters, both California Democrats, say they need the records as part of broad investigations into Russian money laundering and potential foreign influence involving Trump.
The appeals court was reviewing a district court decision from May that cleared the way for the House subpoenas. Trump's attorneys had argued that the committees are pushing the boundaries of their powers to embarrass the president and that their subpoenas serve no legislative purpose. The subpoenas would sweep up every debit card transaction and check written by Trump, his children and even his grandchildren, they said.
The majority disagreed, finding the subpoenas serve a "legitimate legislative purpose." But the judges also acknowledged the "serious" privacy concerns at issue and ordered the lower court to give Trump and his family time to identify "all sensitive documents" - such as those related medical expenses - that should potentially be excluded from the subpoenas.
"We have recognized that this loss of privacy is irreparable," the court said, adding that it is mitigated by the lower court review process.
"The seriousness of the hardship . . . should be assessed in light of the fact that [Trump] is already required to expose for public scrutiny a considerable amount" of personal financial information.
The third judge on the 2nd Circuit panel, Debra Ann Livingston, issued a separate opinion in which she dissented in part. She called the subpoenas "deeply troubling" because they make no distinction between business and personal matters and seek information about the president's wife, children and grandchildren. She would not have ordered immediate disclosure and instead would have sent the entire case back to the lower court for in-depth review of the information requested.
The president's attorneys, Livingston wrote in a 59-page opinion, have "raised serious questions on the merits, implicating not only Congress's lawmaking powers, but also the ability of this and future Presidents to discharge the duties of the Office of the President free of myriad inquiries instigated 'more casually and less responsibly' than contemplated in our constitutional framework."
Livingston and Hall were nominated to the bench by George W. Bush. Newman is a nominee of Jimmy Carter.
The ruling from the 2nd Circuit is the third time a federal appeals court has upheld subpoenas for Trump's business records. Last month, the federal appeals court in Washington let stand an earlier ruling against the president, affirming that Congress can seek eight years of Trump's tax records. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Circuit previously ruled Trump's claims that a congressional subpoena was invalid because lawmakers lacked a "legitimate legislative purpose" were incorrect. A majority of the court's 11 active judges voted against revisiting the case.
In that case, the president is fighting a House Oversight Committee subpoena to his longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, and audits it prepared for Trump and several of his companies. The Supreme Court agreed to Trump's request to temporarily put the order on hold. Trump's lawyers have until Thursday to file a petition seeking review by the high court.
A separate three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit also unanimously rejected Trump's effort to block New York grand jury subpoenas for his eight years of Trump's tax returns from his accounting firm. The panel ruled that "any presidential immunity from a state criminal process does not bar the enforcement of such subpoena," according to the opinion written by Chief Judge Robert Katzmann.
This case centers on a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., whose office is investigating hush-money payments made before the 2016 election to silence two women who said they had affairs years earlier with Trump. The president has denied the affairs.
Trump has also asked the Supreme Court to step in to stop disclosure of his financial records to New York prosecutors. The justices are scheduled to discuss whether to take the case at their private conference on Dec. 13.
In the Deutsche Bank case, attorneys for the president's largest lender told the appeals court that it does not have Trump's personal tax returns but does have the returns of two other people covered by the House subpoenas. The names of those individuals have been redacted from court documents and the appeals court ruled Tuesday that there was no reason to prevent those documents from being turned over to the House.
Since neither bank has the president's returns the court said it did not need to decide whether the House committees should be allowed to obtain the records.
Deutsche Bank, a German banking giant, has been a major lender to both the Trump Organization and Kushner Companies, which previously was run by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a presidential adviser.
Trump's company has taken out about $364 million in loans from Deutsche Bank since 2012, according to public filings. The loans included two worth $125 million to buy and renovate the Doral golf resort in Florida, a $170 million loan to renovate Washington's Old Post Office into a Trump hotel, and a $69 million loan to refinance an existing Trump hotel in Chicago.
Douglas Letter, the House's general counsel, questioned at oral argument in August why the bank continued lending to Trump and his businesses after several of Trump's businesses filed for bankruptcy and other banks stopped lending to him.
The trove of financial documents held by Deutsche Bank could give House Democrats a detailed road map for more than a decade of Trump's financial history, including whom he did business with and the sources of his wealth.
"We might find out whether Trump has, to the public, overstated his assets and understated his personal benefit from his tax cut," said Charles Tiefer, a former longtime House lawyer who is now a University of Baltimore law professor.
This article was written by Ann Marimow and Renae Merle, reporters for The Washington Post.