Last month, President Donald Trump’s legal team filed a lawsuit to stop a subpoena issued by House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to accounting conglomerate Mazars USA, which is in possession of Trump’s coveted tax returns.
The subpoena seeks to confirm testimony by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who alleged that Trump over and under-inflated the value of his assets.
On Tuesday, Trump’s lawyers proposed an ambitious challenge to Congress’s authority to investigate the president in federal court.
William Consovoy, Trump’s personal attorney, argued that the Constitution does not grant the House of Representatives law enforcement powers and that the multiple investigations in the House serve no legislative purpose.
“That is law enforcement,” Consovoy said. “Are you complying with federal law?”
US District Court Judge Amit Mehta asked Consovoy if a president could be investigated for corruption while in office, which Consovoy dismissed.
“I don’t think that’s the proper subject of investigation as to the president,” he replied.
What happened next is almost unbelievable.
Consovoy suggested that the Watergate and Whitewater investigations may have been unconstitutional.
Brad Heath of USA Today reported US District Court Judge Amit Mehta’s reaction:
“Mehta sounded incredulous, asking whether Congress could have investigated Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, and Whitewater, which led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Consovoy initially said he’d have to look at the basis for those investigations.”
“They were inquiring as to violations of criminal law,” Mehta said. “It’s pretty straightforward – among other things.”
“That is still law enforcement,” Consovoy said.
So yeah, that happened.
Did the judge manage to keep a straight face?
— billybroadband (@TimRansberger) May 14, 2019
That’s what can happen when your degree is from Trump University
— jessica t (@buffywatcher23) May 14, 2019
If this seems ridiculous, that’s because it is.
So…only the executive branch can investigate the POTUS, but they can't actually DO anything to him/her because s/he's the head of the executive branch.
Checkmate, checks and balances.
— Adam Bradley (@welldrawndog) May 14, 2019
The sound we just heard was every Constitutional scholar gasping in disbelief…
— Liz Sufit (@LizSDVM) May 14, 2019
Good lord. The Constitution is super clear that Congress, and Congress alone, has the power to investigate misconduct by the President and indict and remove her if that investigation uncovers criminality.
— August in NYC (@augustcohen_nyc) May 14, 2019
Douglas Letter, the House’s general counsel, blasted Trump’s defense as nonsense.
“His main client, President Trump, has taken the position really that Congress and particularly the House of Representatives is a nuisance and we’re just getting in his way when he’s trying to run the country,” Letter said. “The problem with that is that this is a total and basic and fundamental misunderstanding of the system that is set up by the Constitution.”
Trump’s personal finances are “totally legitimate things for Congress to look into,” Letter said. “President Trump has no chance of success here on the merits of his claim.”
Indeed, the Constitution explicitly states in Article II, Section 4:
“The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
But the president’s lawyers are making the case that Trump is above the law.
We are speeding down Authoritarian Lane and well on our way to Dictatorville.
— Henry Nachtman (@HankKnight) May 14, 2019
I had to read that a couple times to make sure he said what he said. That's effin' ballsy, and completely and totally incorrect.
— Candi McCann (@CandiMcCann) May 14, 2019
— onahunttoday (@onahunttoday) May 14, 2019
Constitution was based on level headed people governing the nation. But we are in the hands of people so far outside scope that they will exploit every opening. This judge may sound incredulous, but if he fears retaliation, & sides w/trump, then we are doomed. We have no recourse
— Holly Helscher (@HollyHelscher) May 14, 2019
They are trying to dismantle The Constitution and our Democracy one little plank at a time, slowly, but surely. And as a lifelong Republican, I know that if the shoe were on the other foot, Repubs would be screaming bloody murder, yet they sit there through this w/ a blank stare.
— MaroonEzer (@pcm1982) May 14, 2019
Mehta, unconvinced, hinted that precedent may not favor Trump’s case because not since 1880 has a court found that Congress has abused its subpoena power.
Mehta agreed to fast track the case last week and gave both parties until Saturday to submit any additional information.
“The sole question before the court — Is the House Oversight Committee’s issuance of a subpoena to Mazars USA LLP for financial records of President Donald Trump and various associated entities a valid exercise of legislative power? — is fully briefed, and the court can discern no benefit from an additional round of legal arguments,” he said Tuesday.