Trump loses on appeal as court says minority can issue subpoenas

Christian Berthelsen
Bloomberg
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Subpoenas by congressional oversight panels don’t require the approval of majority members, a federal appeals court in Washington said, in a ruling that could help Republicans and Democrats alike.

Tuesday’s 2-to-1 decision by a panel of the court, a blow to the departing Trump administration, could open the way for Republicans in the House to pursue investigations that might be politically damaging to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden next year.

FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2016, file photo, The Trump International Hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, is photographed in Washington.

But it could also give Senate Democrats an advantage in conducting probes of Donald Trump in coordination with the Democratic majority in the House if they fail to gain control of the Senate after two Jan. 5 runoff elections in Georgia.

“The separation of powers, it must be remembered, is not a one-way street that runs to the aggrandizement of the executive branch,” according to the panel’s majority opinion.

The dispute stemmed from a 2017 effort by Democratic members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, before Democrats took over the House, to gather details of the terms under which the General Services Administration came to lease the Old Post Office building to Donald Trump. The building became the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The Democratic members demanded further information about what steps the GSA had taken to address provisions in the lease prohibiting federal office holders from being involved in the business after Trump was elected president. The GSA refused to produce the requested information. The lease agreement was struck in 2013, under the administration of President Barack Obama and before Trump began campaigning for office.

Tuesday’s ruling overturned a district court opinion for the Trump administration and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

The dissenting judge said legislative powers belong to the House itself and not its individual members and that “the consequences of allowing a handful of members to enforce in court demands for executive branch documents without regard to the wishes of the House majority are sure to be ruinous.”

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