WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and his business organization sued the Democratic chairman of the House oversight committee on Monday to block a subpoena that seeks years of the president's financial records.
The complaint became the latest front in the intensifying battle between the president and the Democrats who control the House of Representatives and are committed to investigating Trump and his finances. The complaint, filed in federal court in Washington, said the subpoena from Rep. Elijah Cummings "has no legitimate legislative purpose" and accuses Democrats of harassing Trump and wielding their new majority in Congress to try to stain the president's standing.
"Instead of working with the President to pass bipartisan legislation that would actually benefit Americans, House Democrats are singularly obsessed with finding something they can use to damage the President politically," the lawsuit states.
Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued the subpoena earlier this month to Mazars USA, an accountant for the president and Trump Organization. He said Monday that the complaint "reads more like political talking points than a reasoned legal brief, and it contains a litany of inaccurate information."
"The President has a long history of trying to use baseless lawsuits to attack his adversaries, but there is simply no valid legal basis to interfere with this duly authorized subpoena from Congress," Cummings said. "The White House is engaged in unprecedented stonewalling on all fronts, and they have refused to produce a single document or witness to the Oversight Committee during this entire year."
The lawsuit accuses Cummings of failing to consult with Republicans on the panel before issuing the subpoena and says he relied on the testimony of Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who told lawmakers in February that some of Trump's financial statements contained inaccuracies. Cohen pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress in 2017 about a real estate deal involving Trump in Moscow.
"The Cohen hearing was a partisan stunt, not a good-faith effort to obtain accurate testimony from a reliable witness," the lawsuit says.
The suit, in a sense, amounts to Trump — the leader of the executive branch of government — asking the judicial branch to stop the legislative branch from investigating his past. To do so would break decades of precedent, which established that the legislature's investigative power is not limited to just researching possible legislation. Trump advisers have argued that the newest requests are fishing expeditions, broad-based inquires meant to extend beyond what should be in the investigators' purview in order to embarrass Trump and could set a dangerous precedent for future chief executives.
The complaint also says the subpoena seeks to investigate events that occurred before Trump was president and "has no legitimate legislative purpose." It says, "Democrats are using their new control of congressional committees to investigate every aspect of President Trump's personal finances, businesses, and even his family."
Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's lawyers, said in a statement Monday that "we will not allow presidential harassment to go unanswered." Neither the White House nor Trump Organization responded to requests for comment.
The lawsuit comes amid a widespread effort by the White House and the president's attorneys to refuse to cooperate with congressional requests for information and records.
Earlier this month, the Treasury Department missed a deadline to hand over Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. A new deadline was set for Tuesday but there has been no indication that Trump's team plans to cooperate. A White House spokesman referred requests for comment to one of the president's personal attorneys, who did not immediately respond.
Lanny Davis, Cohen's representative, linked the complaint to Trump's ongoing effort to shield his taxes.
"The reasons for Mr. Trump's desperate attempt to prevent his tax returns from being made public — like all prior presidents — is no mystery," Davis said. "Does anyone doubt he has something to hide?"
And White House officials have refused to comply with other requests related to Trump's actions as president. The administration, for instance, has also signaled it does not plan to turn over information being sought about how particular staffers, including senior aides like Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, received their security clearances.
Lemire reported from New York.