Washington — President Donald Trump and his business organization on Monday sued Rep. Elijah Cummings — the House oversight committee chairman — alleging the Baltimore Democrat crossed a constitutional line with a subpoena to the president’s longtime accountant seeking years of financial statements.
The lawsuit, which challenges the scope of the legislative branch’s powers, represents a new front in the struggle between the Republican president and the Democratic House — and Cummings in particular.
Cummings, a 13-term House veteran and former Maryland state delegate and trial attorney, was sued in his official capacity as committee chairman.
“The Democrat Party, with its newfound control of the U.S. House of Representatives, has declared all-out political war against President Donald J. Trump,” the federal court suit said. “Subpoenas are their weapon of choice.”
Cummings has long expressed frustration with the Trump administration’s refusal to respond to requests for information that he believes would help fulfill the committee’s duty to spotlight potential executive branch abuses.
“Congress is a separate branch of government, and this administration’s unwillingness to cooperate with our independent oversight investigations impedes our ability to do our job under the Constitution,” he said in an email to The Baltimore Sun.
In response to the lawsuit, Cummings said in a statement that Trump “has a long history of trying to use baseless lawsuits to attack his adversaries, but there is simply no valid legal basis to interfere with this duly authorized subpoena from Congress.”
“This complaint reads more like political talking points than a reasoned legal brief, and it contains a litany of inaccurate information. The White House is engaged in unprecedented stonewalling on all fronts, and they have refused to produce a single document or witness to the oversight committee during this entire year.”
Cummings issued the subpoena through the committee earlier this month to Mazars USA, an accountant for the president and Trump Organization, which was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
New York-based Mazars is itself is named as a defendant. That was done, according to the suit, so Trump “can obtain effective relief” — namely an order barring the firm from releasing the requested information. The suit also seeks a permanent injunction preventing Cummings and Peter Kenny — the committee’s chief investigative counsel — from trying to enforce the subpoena.
The subpoena seeks years of financial records, communications and notes related to Trump’s financial condition from Mazars, which had informed Cummings it would not voluntarily comply with his requests.
The lawsuit cites rules of the American Institute of CPAs, which, the complaint says, prohibit accountants from disclosing “any confidential client information without the specific consent of the client.”
It also accuses Cummings of not consulting with the committee’s Republicans before requesting the information and says he relied on the testimony of Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who raised questions with lawmakers in February about the accuracy of some of Trump's financial statements.
The oversight committee did not have a meeting to consider the subpoena. In an April 12 memorandum to panel members, Cummings said that was because the House was heading into a recess, but that he wanted their “feedback” about the subpoena.
The subpoena, Cummings wrote in the memo, came after Cohen’s testimony that Trump had “altered the estimated value of his assets and liabilities on financial statements.”
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress about a prospective Trump real estate deal in Russia.
Cummings, known for his boisterous questioning of witnesses, delivered a sharp opening statement at Cohen’s hearing, saying that the days of the oversight committee “protecting the president at all costs are over.”
But Trump’s suit called the Cohen hearing “a partisan stunt, not a good-faith effort to obtain accurate testimony from a reliable witness." The suit labeled Cohen “a convicted liar.”
The suit says the subpoena “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
Cummings’ memo says the committee’s review of Trump’s conduct generally “informs its review of multiple laws and legislative proposals.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
Cummings’ frustration with the administration dates to Trump’s first two years in office, when the Baltimore lawmaker was the senior Democrat on a committee then controlled by Republicans.
Cummings and his Democratic staff repeatedly compiled subpoenas for consideration by U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who then chaired the committee. They requested documents related to immigrant family separation policies, security clearances, patient protections in the Affordable Care Act and private email accounts allegedly used by senior White House officials, among other issues.
Cummings said Gowdy granted none of the 64 subpoena motions.
“I’m deeply troubled that the White House continues to stonewall our investigations at every single turn,” he said in his email Monday to the Sun.
Cummings said last year that it was premature to entertain the possibility that the House could push to impeach the president.
Days after special counsel Robert Mueller's report said Trump tried to interfere the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and force Mueller's removal, Cummings told the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday that regarding impeachment: “I'm not there yet, but … I can foresee that possibly coming.”
Cummings also said on the show that “I think history would smile upon us for standing up for the Constitution."