On 6 August 2019, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed an amicus brief in Trump v Mazars, President Trump’s lawsuit challenging the subpoena by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform for the release of his tax records and financial information for the last eight years.
The brief was filed at the request of the appeals court. The DoJ, led by Attorney General William Barr, advises that the subpoena serves no ‘legitimate legislative purpose’.
“A congressional demand for the President’s personal records raises the specter that members of the Legislative Branch are impermissibly attempting to interfere with or harass the Head of the Executive Branch, or at least that the subpoena will have that effect, especially given the possibility of a multitude of such subpoenas,” said the DoJ. “The House's recent blank-check authorization of all existing and future subpoenas concerning the President underscores the need for this Court to require the House itself to provide a clear explanation of the purpose of this specific subpoena.”
In May US District Judge Amit Mehta had ruled the House Committee had the legal standing to issue the subpoena. In his ruling, he said: “Congress plainly views itself as having sweeping authority to investigate illegal conduct of a President, before and after taking office. This court is not prepared to roll back the tide of history.”
Mehta’s ruling was promptly appealed by Trump’s personal lawyers and the case is before the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit; oral arguments took place on July 12 and the panel of three appeals judges asked the DoJ for its opinion.
That opinion came in the form of the amicus brief in which the DoJ argues: “The House’s lack of responsibility is sufficient reason for this Court to declare this subpoena invalid. Otherwise, the resolution’s carte-blanche approval of all future subpoenas directed toward the President would vastly increase the risk that this Court will be confronted with difficult litigation about the validity of sweeping subpoenas purportedly justified by vague incantations of hypothetical legislative purposes. At an absolute minimum, this Court should require the Committee to provide the necessary clarity, which it likewise has failed to do,” adding that ‘it is imperative that the House—or at the very least the Committee—provide a clearer and more particular statement of the potential legislative measures for which the subpoenaed materials are pertinent and necessary’.