WASHINGTON - There is no precedent for keeping a House committee from examining President Donald Trump's financial records, lawyers for the House told the Supreme Court on Thursday, and "each day of delay harms Congress by depriving it of important information it needs to carry out its constitutional responsibilities."
House General Counsel Doug Letter said in a brief that the court's precedents involving Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton make clear that the chief executive enjoys no special privilege to be free from investigation or legal action.
The Supreme Court "has established that even a private citizen may invoke the courts' subpoena power against the president in appropriate cases," the brief states. "In light of that settled law, it would hardly make sense to say that Congress, a coordinate branch, cannot use its own subpoena power in a matter involving the president."
But Letter said that if the justices agree to a stay of a lower court's order telling Trump's longtime accountants Mazars USA to turn over the records, they should expedite a decision on whether to order a full briefing and a hearing on the case. Letter suggests that the high court consider the issue at its private conference Dec. 13.
The case involves a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that said the House Oversight and Reform Committee may see eight years' worth of Trump's personal and business financial records.
The committee said it is investigating irregularities in Trump's financial disclosure forms and whether legislation is needed to tighten the law.
The president's private lawyers last week asked the Supreme Court to put the order on hold and examine the lower court's ruling, which they said raised historic issues over separation of powers.
They have made the same request in a second case, involving a ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that said roughly the same materials must be turned over to state prosecutors in New York.
Trump tweeted about the issue Thursday, although he mentioned only the New York case, which is being pursued by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
"Now the Witch Hunt continues with local New York Democrat prosecutors going over every financial deal I have ever done," the president tweeted. "This has never happened to a President before. What they are doing is not legal. But I'm clean, and when I release my financial statement (my decision) sometime before Election, it will only show one thing - that I am much richer than people even thought."
Trump has promised since the 2016 campaign to release his tax returns; he has blamed an Internal Revenue Service audit for the delay. The past six presidents, dating to Jimmy Carter, have released such information voluntarily.
Vance told the court in a brief filed Thursday that his case presents only a narrow question: "whether a state may issue a subpoena to a third party seeking financial records of the sitting President when those records are relevant to a secret grand jury investigation and have no relation to official actions taken by the President during his time in office."
Rather than raising important questions about government, Vance said, "there is no real public interest at stake here at all; this case instead involves [Trump's] private interest in seeking his own and others' immunity from an ordinary investigation of financial improprieties independent of official duties."
Vance's office is investigating whether state laws were broken by alleged hush-money payments made during Trump's 2016 campaign to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress, and to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both say they had affairs with Trump; he has denied the affairs and any wrongdoing.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. put on hold "until further order" the ruling in the House case, and called for the response from the House that was delivered Thursday. The New York case is on hold as well.
Trump lawyer William Consovoy told the Supreme Court that under the District Circuit's decision, "any committee of Congress can subpoena any personal information from the president; all the committee needs to say is that it's considering legislation that would force presidents to disclose that same information."
He has expressed similar concerns about opening the president to investigations by politically ambitious district attorneys across the nation.
This article was written by Robert Barnes, a reporter for The Washington Post.