Judge rejects Trump effort to block Deutsche Bank subpoena

A federal judge in New York rejected President Donald Trump’s request to keep his banks from producing financial records to lawmakers, handing House Democrats a second convincing courtroom win this week in their efforts to delve into the president’s finances.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos, ruling from the bench on Wednesday, denied Trump’s request for a preliminary injunction, saying that while the president, his family and his business would suffer irreparable harm from disclosure of the records, they were “unlikely to succeed on the merits” with their argument that the congressional subpoenas are improper.

The decision comes two days after U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington ruled that Congress has the authority to demand records from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP.

President Donald Trump reviews papers during an interview in the Oval Office.
U.S. President Donald Trump reviews papers during an interview in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Trump said he doesn't regret appointing Jerome Powell as Federal Reserve chairman, even after criticizing interest rate increases by the central bank. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

The speed and decisiveness of the rulings, by two different judges, signals that Trump may have difficulty blocking congressional subpoenas — at least in the lower federal courts. Trump is appealing the Washington ruling and both sides have asked for a quick hearing. Trump is also likely to appeal Wednesday’s decision.

If upheld on appeal, the rulings would give Congress access to Trump tax information from Mazars, information about financing of his family businesses from Deutsche Bank and personal bank records from Capital One, where Trump has held checking and savings accounts since at least 2015.

Trump, his children Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka, and his businesses, sued Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp. last month to block them from complying with the congressional Democrats’ demands for the financial information. The suit is part of a broader effort by the president to push back at House investigations as he runs for re-election next year.

Ramos rejected almost all of the arguments for blocking the subpoenas put forward by Trump’s lawyers, reading his 25-page opinion in a full New York courtroom in a two-hour hearing. Ramos, like Mehta, was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama.

Congress has the broad authority to investigate matters related to possible legislation, but that doesn’t mean that its powers are limited to probes that involve contemplated bills, Ramos said. He noted that Congress performs many different functions that include looking into corruption, inefficiency or waste in federal government agencies.

“Put simply, the power of Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process,” Ramos said.

The banks have taken no position on the legality of the subpoenas and are letting lawyers for the president and the two House panels, the Financial Services and the Intelligence committees, fight it out. Their lawyers remained silent throughout Wednesday’s hearing.

"We remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations and will abide by a court order regarding such investigations," Deutsche Bank spokeswoman Kerrie McHugh said after the ruling.

Marc Mukasey, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, declined to comment on the ruling outside court. Tatiana Stead, a spokeswoman for Capital One, also declined to comment.

Stay sought

After Ramos issued his ruling, Trump’s lawyer asked for a stay to delay its implementation. That request was rejected. Lawyers for the House committees agreed beforehand to extend the due date for subpoena responses until seven days after a final ruling, giving Trump time to appeal. Patrick Strawbridge, a lawyer for Trump, told Ramos that an appeal was “probably a safe bet."

The House agreed Wednesday to suspend a seven-day deadline for Mazars to turn over the records if the appeals court in Washington agreed to a quick hearing on the issue. If the request is rejected, Trump's lawyers said they'd file an emergency request to put Mehta's ruling on hold for the appeal.

"Two in a week," said Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House. "Mazars on Monday. Deutsche Bank today!"

“Different judge. Same opinion — the Trump legal arguments are without merit," said Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

“Recent reports that suspicious activity involving accounts linked to the president or his son-in-law went unreported to the Treasury Department only illustrate why it is so important for us to do our work without delay or interference by the president or family members,” said Schiff.

The chairman was referring to a report in the The New York Times that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner aroused the suspicion of anti-money laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank in 2016 and 2017.

Near the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Ramos asked a small group of spectators to put away signs, including one held by Jenny Heinz, a Manhattan woman, reading “"CONGRESS HAS A RIGHT TO KNOW.” After the hearing, Heinz was one of four demonstrators outside the courthouse holding a long banner that said, “IMPEACH TRUMP.”

The case is Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG, 19-cv-03826, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

— With assistance from Billy House and Shahien Nasiripour