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Impeachment trial adds to a long list of Trump’s legal headaches

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 11, 2020

In this Jan. 9, 2020, photo, President Donald Trump speaks on proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci / AP)
In this Jan. 9, 2020, photo, President Donald Trump speaks on proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci / AP)
By Andrew Harris Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial comes amid a long list of federal court cases that threaten to generate more trouble for him during the election year.

The impeachment trial starts as soon as next week, while the court cases are running on separate tracks. House committees are seeking his financial records, a New York prosecutor wants his income tax returns, and public officials and private watchdogs say he’s unlawfully profiting from foreign government business.

The House Judiciary Committee is suing to get the records of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and a court is being asked if former White House Counsel Don McGahn must testify.

Three of these cases will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the spring. Here’s a rundown:

Tax and business records

The Supreme Court plans to hear arguments in late March or early April on two lawsuits filed by Trump seeking to block House committees’ subpoenas for his financial records. A ruling is likely by the end of June.

Trump sued in April to block the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpoena for eight years of financial records held by Mazars USA LLP, his accountants. The committee said it needs the records to investigate whether new legislation is needed on financial disclosures, government ethics and government contracts with federal officeholders.

The president’s lawyers contend the committee is seeking the information only to embarrass Trump. A federal judge in Washington ruled for the committee in May, and an appeals court upheld the decision 2-1.

Trump also sued Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp. in April to block them from turning over his financial records dating back more than a decade. The House Financial Services and House Intelligence committees say they need the records to determine whether legislation is required to protect against foreign influence.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in Manhattan upheld the subpoenas in May, and a federal appeals court agreed on Dec. 3, ruling that the committees had legitimate legislative purposes for seeking the records.

The banks and Mazars aren’t contesting the subpoenas and have said they will comply with their legal obligations.

The cases are Trump v. Mazars, 19-636, and Trump v. Deutsche Bank, 19-760.

Subpoena of business records

The Supreme Court also plans to hear arguments this spring on Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s subpoena for the president’s personal tax returns and business records. A ruling is due by the end of June.

Vance subpoenaed the president’s financial records to investigate whether the Trump Organization falsified its business records to cover up hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and onetime Playboy playmate Karen McDougal before the 2016 election. The records are held by the Mazars accounting firm.

Trump sued in September to block the subpoena. His lawyers argue he “cannot be subject to criminal investigation, for any conduct of any kind, while he is serving as president.” In October, a federal judge in New York ruled for Vance.

An appeals court agreed a month later, while saying it wasn’t deciding whether Trump could be prosecuted while in office or even compelled to personally produce documents.

The case is Trump v. Vance, 19-636.

Personal tax returns

The House Ways and Means Committee sued the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service in July, seeking to force them to hand over six years of Trump’s personal income tax records.

The committee says it needs the records to see whether the IRS is following its practice of auditing the president annually. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called the request a pretext for a political attack.

U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington heard arguments on Nov. 6 and suggested he may rule for House Democrats.

The case is Ways and Means Committee v. U.S. Treasury Department; 19-cv-1974, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia.

Payments in ‘emoluments’ case

Trump is asking a federal appeals court to throw out a lawsuit that claims he’s violating the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause by receiving foreign and domestic government payments to his businesses while in office.

Two days after Trump became president without selling his business holdings, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a suit accusing him of violating the Constitution by benefiting financially from foreign and domestic governments while holding office.

A federal judge in Manhattan tossed out the case, ruling that those who sued hadn’t been hurt by Trump’s actions and that it was up to Congress to address any constitutional violations. A New York-based federal appeals court disagreed and reinstated the lawsuit in a 2-1 ruling in September. Trump has asked the court to reconsider its ruling, and the court hasn’t ruled yet.

The case is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump, 18-474, 2nd U.S. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (New York).

Trump’s D.C. hotel

The Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia sued the president in Maryland federal court in 2017, contending he was unconstitutionally receiving “emoluments” through foreign and domestic government spending at his luxury hotel just blocks from the White House. The hotel, they said, was pulling business away from their taxpaying constituents. Trump’s lawyers sought to dismiss the suit, arguing the attorneys general lacked grounds to sue and that Trump wasn’t violating the Constitution.

A federal judge ruled the officials could sue. But a three-judge appeals court panel disagreed and threw out the suit, saying the officials hadn’t shown their constituents were harmed by Trump’s actions.

The full appellate court agreed to reconsider the case and heard arguments Dec. 12. The court hasn’t ruled yet.

The cases are In Re Donald Trump, 18-2486, and District of Columbia v. Trump, 18-2488, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Richmond, Virginia).

Emoluments and Congress

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and more than 200 other Democratic members of Congress sued Trump in 2017, saying the Constitution requires presidents to get Congress’ permission to accept payments from foreign powers. A federal judge in Washington ruled in April that the lawmakers can pursue their suit, saying the definition of “emolument” – meaning any “profit, gain or advantage” – fit within their claims. The judge didn’t resolve whether Trump was receiving emoluments or if he needed Congress’s permission to keep them.

The president appealed. A three-judge appellate panel heard arguments Dec. 9 and hasn’t yet ruled.

The case is Blumenthal v. Trump, 19-5237, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

Mueller grand jury materials

The House Judiciary Committee is seeking to view transcripts, papers and other secret grand jury materials from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Days after Mueller testified to Congress in July, the Judiciary panel filed its request with the chief judge of Washington’s federal trial court. Grand jury information typically remains secret, in part to protect the identities of people who are investigated but never charged.

The Justice Department objected, citing the need for secrecy and claiming the House wasn’t engaged in a “judicial proceeding” warranting release of the information. Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled for the House in October, citing a need for records for the impeachment inquiry.

The records remain under wraps. A U.S. appeals court held up Howell’s ruling on Nov. 8 and heard arguments on Jan. 3, the same day it considered a House subpoena for testimony from McGahn. It has not yet ruled in either case.

The case is In Re Application of Judiciary Committee v. Department of Justice, 19-5288, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

Former counsel’s testimony

The House Judiciary Committee sued in August to enforce a subpoena issued earlier in the year for testimony by McGahn. Democrats said Mueller’s report showed McGahn witnessed multiple acts of potential obstruction of justice by the president.

McGahn had refused to testify before the Judiciary panel and the full House held him in contempt on June 11.

A federal judge in Washington ruled for the committee in November, rejecting Trump’s claim of broad presidential immunity. After Trump’s lawyers appealed, a three-judge panel heard arguments Jan. 3. It has not yet issued a ruling.

The case is Judiciary Committee v. McGahn, 19-5331, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

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