By Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett

The Washington Post

Judge upholds House subpoena demanding years of Trump’s financial records

President Donald Trump on Monday lost an early round of his court fight with Democrats when a federal judge ruled that the president’s accounting firm must turn over his financial records to Congress as lawmakers seek to assert their oversight authority.

Trump called the 41-page ruling from U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta of Washington “crazy” and he said he would appeal, adding: “We think it’s totally the wrong decision by obviously an Obama-appointed judge.” The judge gave the White House a week to appeal.

In his decision, Mehta flatly rejected arguments from the president’s lawyers that the House Oversight Committee’s demands for the records from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, were overly broad and served no legitimate legislative function.

“It is simply not fathomable,” the judge wrote, “that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry.”

When the lawsuit was filed, Trump’s private attorney Jay Sekulow said in a statement that the president’s team “will not allow Congressional Presidential harassment to go unanswered.”

The company said in a statement that it will “respect the legal process and fully comply with its legal obligations.”

While Democrats scored the first court victory in the fight over the president’s financial records, it’s unclear how many of these disputes will reach higher courts, or how those courts might rule.

Cohen alleges lie about Moscow project

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, told a House panel during closed-door hearings earlier this year he had been encouraged by Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow to falsely claim in a 2017 statement to Congress that negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, according to transcripts of his testimony that were released Monday.

In fact, Cohen later said discussions on the Moscow tower continued into June of the presidential election year, after it was clear that Trump would be the GOP nominee. Cohen is serving three years in prison for lying to Congress, financial crimes and campaign finance violations.

House Democrats are now scrutinizing whether Sekulow or other Trump attorneys played a role in shaping Cohen’s 2017 testimony to Congress. Cohen has said he made the false statement to help hide the fact that Trump had potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in a possible Russian project while he was running for president.

Attorneys for Sekulow said in a statement that “Cohen’s alleged statements are more of the same from him and confirm the observations of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that Cohen’s ‘instinct to blame others is strong.’”

— From wire reports

The White House on Monday blocked former counsel Donald McGahn from testifying to Congress, the latest act of defiance in the ongoing conflict between House Democrats and President Donald Trump.

McGahn, who Democrats hoped would become a star witness in their investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice, was subpoenaed to testify Tuesday. The former White House counsel delivered critical testimony in several instances of potential obstruction by Trump detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

“The Department of Justice has provided a legal opinion stating that, based on long-standing, bipartisan, and constitutional precedent, the former counsel to the president cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr. McGahn has been directed to act accordingly,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement. “This action has been taken in order to ensure that future presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the office of the presidency.”

The 15-page legal opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel argues that McGahn cannot be compelled to testify before the committee, based on past Justice Department legal opinions regarding the president’s close advisers. The memo says McGahn’s immunity from congressional testimony is separate and broader than a claim of executive privilege.

The immunity “extends beyond answers to particular questions, precluding Congress from compelling even the appearance of a senior presidential adviser — as a function of the independence and autonomy of the president himself,” Engel wrote. That immunity, the memo insists, does not evaporate once the adviser in question leaves the government, because the topics of interest to Congress are discussions that occurred when the person worked for the president.

As a private citizen no longer in the government, McGahn is not necessarily bound by the White House directive, or the OLC memo, to refuse to comply with the subpoena. There was no immediate word from McGahn’s lawyer on whether he would defy the White House.

Testifying, however, could jeopardize business and professional standing for McGahn, who works for Jones Day, a law firm with close ties to the Trump campaign and Republican electoral politics. Jones Day, reelection campaign officials say, will still be involved in the campaign but will have a reduced role from 2016, when it was the main firm.

The defiance raises the possibility the House will hold McGahn in contempt of Congress, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has threatened.

“It is absurd for President Trump to claim privilege as to this witness’s testimony when that testimony was already described publicly in the Mueller report,” Nadler said in a statement. He said the committee would still meet Tuesday morning, and “Mr. McGahn is expected to appear as legally required.”

McGahn emerged as a central player in Mueller’s findings, a senior confidante who documented in real-time Trump’s rage against the Russia investigation and the president’s efforts to shut it down. Democrats wanted him to testify for a national television audience about times in which Mueller found McGahn was a critical witness and in which investigators say they have substantial evidence Trump was engaged in obstruction of justice that would normally warrant criminal charges.