The judicial branch just delivered a sharp jab to the chin of President Donald Trump, in a foreboding omen for his strategy for thwarting investigations that threaten his presidency.
Court ruling undermines Trump’s congressional blockade
When a federal judge ruled Monday that the President’s longtime accounting firm Mazars must hand over his financial records, he did not just deliver a win to stonewalled Democrats.
He made a sweeping point about Congress’ power to hold a President to account — in an argument that will reverberate throughout Trump’s attempt to fend off an oversight offensive.
Judge Amit Mehta said it was “simply not fathomable” that a Congress that is constitutionally authorized to remove a president did not have the power to investigate him.
Trump is appealing the decision, and long court battles loom — so Monday’s ruling was a setback in a much longer war, a factor that offers Trump a significant political advantage.
And typically, his response signaled that he has no intention of backing down and will take each bout in his battle against Congress as far as he can, potentially to the Supreme Court.
But Monday put down an early marker in the separation-of-powers feud between Congress and the White House and may hint at how other court battles between Democrats and Trump may pan out.
“It is a good opinion. It sets a very good bedrock framework for how all of these skirmishes between House committees and the White House are going to go,” Preet Bharara, former US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
Depending on how the White House reacts to any eventual court orders that contravene the President’s wishes, Monday’s drama may also have brought a constitutional crisis one step closer.
Former FBI general counsel James Baker told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday that Congress had not always exercised powers inherent in the Mazars case, and had over the years ceded power to the presidency.
“I think it is a recognition that Congress has a lot of power under the Constitution — that is just the case,” Baker said on “The Situation Room.” “This is them taking some of this back by trying to enforce this subpoena, so the ruling from the court doesn’t surprise me.”
Trump’s legal team had argued that Congress is on a crusade to overturn material that the Democrats could use to embarrass him now and in the 2020 presidential election.
But House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, called the ruling a “resounding victory for the rule of law and our constitutional system of checks and balances.”