A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which celebrated its official opening on Monday Jan. 14, 2013, in Denver. 
Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP

After court defeat, Trump is running out of options on his tax returns

As of this morning, we’re one step closer to seeing Donald Trump’s hidden tax returns.

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s accounting firm must turn over financial records requested by a House committee, a legal blow to the administration’s efforts to block congressional investigations of his finances.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a subpoena to Mazars USA, in April asking for documents related to Trump’s accounts going back to January 2009. His lawyers sued to block the subpoena, arguing that Congress had no legitimate legislative purpose for getting the materials.

But in a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the committee “possesses authority under both the House rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply.”

Because there are multiple ongoing lawsuits surrounding the president’s hidden tax returns, it’s easy to get confused about the various cases. Earlier this week, for example, a federal judge ruled that a New York district attorney’s office, which is investigating Trump’s hush-money scandal, has the legal right to access eight years’ worth of personal and business tax returns from the president.

As Rachel noted on the show, Trump’s legal team argued in that case that a sitting American president cannot be investigated by anyone for any reason, no matter how serious the underlying accusation. The judge disagreed, ruled in prosecutors’ favor, and the case went to the 2nd Circuit on appeal.

Today’s ruling is an entirely different case, related to a congressional effort to subpoena Trump’s accounting firm. The president’s lawyers, hired specifically to help keep his tax returns hidden, sued to block enforcement of the subpoena, arguing that Congress lacks the legal authority to scrutinize alleged presidential misdeeds.

A lower court rejected Team Trump’s argument. Today, an appeals reached the same conclusion. A copy of full ruling is online here.

It’s worth noting for context that one of the jurists on the three-judge panel was appointed by Trump, and wouldn’t you know it, Judge Neomi Rao sided with the president. In her dissent, Rao argued, “When the House chooses to investigate the President for alleged violations of the laws and the Constitution, it must proceed through impeachment.”

Oddly enough, the White House’s counsel’s office also argued this week that Congress’ ongoing impeachment inquiry is “unconstitutional.”

In any event, to keep the president’s tax returns hidden, Trump and his lawyers are running out of options. In this latest case, they can appeal to the full D.C. Circuit – seeking what’s called an en banc ruling – or they can take their chances with the U.S. Supreme Court.

If those appeals fall short, Trump’s accounting firm will have no choice but to comply with the subpoena and turn over the president’s tax returns.