Chief Justice Roberts Halts Subpoena For President Trump’s Accounting Records — For Now

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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  • Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily blocked a lower court order requiring his accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP, to turn over his accounting records to the House Oversight Committee.
  • Roberts’s order will only remain in effect for a short time — the justices will decide whether to grant a longer pause in the coming days. 
  • The chief justice did not give reasons for his decision, as is typical of orders of this nature.

Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily blocked a lower court ruling requiring President Donald Trump’s accounting firm to turn over eight years worth of Trump accounting records to the House Oversight Committee in a short Monday order.

The order, called an administrative stay, means House Democrats will not have access to Trump’s financial information until the Supreme Court decides whether to grant a longer stay. That decision — which is distinct from a request to hear the president’s case — could come as soon as Friday.

Monday’s order follows an Oct. 11 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that upheld a House subpoena to Mazars USA LLP for Trump’s financial information. The full D.C. Circuit affirmed that ruling on a 8-3 vote, teeing up an appeal to the high court.

Roberts issued the order because he hears emergency matters arising from the D.C. Circuit. Though the justices generally refer meritorious requests for emergency relief to the full court, they occasionally issue unilateral short-term stays pending further review. Such stays are quite common in last-minute death penalty appeals, for example.

House Democrats indicated that they would not oppose a brief pause of the D.C. Circuit’s decision. House general counsel Douglas Letter told the justices that the Oversight Committee would consent to a 10-day stay on Monday morning. (RELATED: Brett Kavanaugh Lauds Friends, Fellow Justices In First Speech Since Bitter Confirmation)

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(D-NY) listens as Michael Cohen testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on February 27, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez(D-NY) listens as Michael Cohen testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on February 27, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump’s personal lawyers filed a stay application at the Supreme Court Friday asking the justices to block the D.C. Circuit’s decision until the justices decide whether to hear the president’s case.

“This is a case of firsts,” the application reads. “It is the first time Congress has subpoenaed the personal records of a president that predate his time in office. It is the first time Congress has issued a subpoena, under its legislative powers, to investigate the president for illegal conduct. And, for the first time, a court has upheld a congressional subpoena to the president for his personal papers.”

“Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government — no matter which party is in power,” the filing adds. “If every committee chairman is going to have this unbounded authority, this Court should be the one to say so.”

The chief justice directed the House panel to respond to Trump’s stay request by Thursday afternoon. The justices will meet in private conference on Friday, during which time they will likely discuss the president’s application. A decision might come that afternoon.

The Supreme Court is currently contending with two separate cases dealing with subpoenas to Mazars for Trump’s records. In addition to the House Oversight Committee case, the president is fighting off a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. The Manhattan prosecutor is investigating supposed hush-money payments to two women who claim they had affairs with the president before he took office.

As in the House case, a lower federal court refused to block the subpoena. Unlike the House case, however, Trump does not need a stay from the Supreme Court to keep his documents shielded. That’s because Vance agreed not to enforce the subpoena at this stage.

Monday’s case is No. 19A545 Trump v. Mazars USA LLP.

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