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Appeals court to expedite review of subpoena for Trump's financial records

President Trump speaks in the Rose Garden after a meeting with Democratic leaders on infrastructure, saying there won't be a deal unless they stop investigations. The sign on the lectern says, "NO Collusion, NO Obstruction." Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court in the District of Columbia said Thursday that it will expedite its review of President Donald Trump's request to block a congressional subpoena seeking financial records from the president's accounting firm.

The brief ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit means the accounting firm will not give a House committee the president's business records while the case is pending.

Lawyers for House Democrats told the court Wednesday that they had agreed with the president's private legal team to suspend deadlines set by the subpoena for documents from Mazars USA if the appeals court agreed to quickly take the case.

The decision Thursday by a three-judge panel puts that agreement in effect and calls for oral argument July 12. The timeline allows the case to move swiftly by court standards and could set up a decision from the Supreme Court that could land in the thick of the 2020 presidential campaign.

If the appeals court in Washington - and perhaps the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York, where a second similar case may be filed - rules within a matter of weeks rather than months, the justices might take up procedural motions this summer.

The request to expedite the case in Washington was approved by a panel made up of Judges David Tatel, Patricia Millett and Neomi Rao. The same three judges will also review the case in oral argument, according to the two-page order.

Rao was recently nominated to the bench by Trump to replace Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Millett was nominated by President Barack Obama, and Tatel was appointee by President Bill Clinton.

The accounting firm has said in a statement that it will "respect the legal process and fully comply with its legal obligations." The subpoena seeks financial records of Trump and associated entities from 2011 through 2018.

Trump is appealing a ruling this week from a federal judge who declined to block the subpoena from the House Oversight Committee, one of several legal battles over Trump's business dealings that in recent weeks went Congress' way.

House Democrats are seeking evidence of potential misconduct by the president and his close associates and to exert their oversight power.

The president's lawyers say the subpoena demands serve no legitimate legislative purpose and that lawmakers are overstepping their authority to conduct investigations.

In a ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington upheld the subpoena to Mazars and noted Congress' "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," he wrote.

Congress has broad oversight authority that has been recognized repeatedly by the courts, and the executive branch has fewer tools to resist such subpoenas that target private companies.

Mehta quoted extensively from previous Supreme Court decisions that indicate a court's role is limited when examining the motivations of authorized actions of the political branches.

"The case law makes clear that 'motives alone would not vitiate an investigation which had been instituted by a House of Congress if that assembly's legislative purpose is being served,' " Mehta wrote, quoting from the court's decision in a 1957 case, Watkins v. U.S.

In last year's decision regarding Trump's ban on travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries, the Supreme Court's conservatives agreed that the president's comments on Muslims and possible motivations behind his policy took a back seat to his authority to control who enters the country.

When reviewing "a matter within the core of executive responsibility," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "we must consider not only the statements of a particular President, but also the authority of the Presidency itself."

If the president's lawyers lose on appeal at the D.C. Circuit, experts watching the legal battle expect an immediate request to the Supreme Court to stop the release of the material.

A D.C. Circuit ruling this summer would land when the justices are scattered on their break. But that does not hamper the court in making a decision on a stay of a lower court order, and it seems likely such a request would be granted in a high-profile case involving the president.

If the high court decided it should weigh in, either at the request of the Trump lawyers or the House, it could set an expedited briefing schedule. But even if the justices heard the case in late fall, a decision would be unlikely until after the first of the year.

Two days after Mehta issued his ruling this week, a judge in New York rejected a similar effort by the president and his family to block their biggest lender and one of their banks from complying with congressional subpoenas. That ruling has not yet been appealed to the 2nd Circuit.

The Justice Department is appealing a judge's decision in a separate case in Washington brought by congressional Democrats alleging that the president's private business violates the Constitution's ban on gifts or payments from foreign governments. The judge said that case can proceed.

This article was written by Ann E. Marimow and Robert Barnes, reporters for The Washington Post.

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