Accuracy in Media

Politico cheered on a lower court judge’s ruling Tuesday that President Trump’s accounting firm had to turn over private records of Trump’s personal finances to a congressional committee.

The ruling, which the Trump administration already has appealed, calls on the firm Mazars USA to surrender eight years of the president’s financial records and set up a standoff between the president and Congress over its power to compel documents or witnesses be produced by the executive branch.

Politico reporters Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney clearly showed where they stand on these issues in “Judge upholds Dem subpoena for Trump financial records” – subhead: “The judge, Amit Mehta, ruled that Congress can investigate the president without beginning formal impeachment proceedings.”

The judge argued Congress “is well within its rights to investigate potential illegal behavior by a president,” Cheney and Desiderio wrote in their lead.

The ruling by Mehta – an Obama appointee and contributor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign – “delivers a striking blow to the president’s efforts to resist Democratic investigations and is certain to give Democrats further legal basis to investigate Trump, his finances and his presidential campaign,” they wrote.

The decision, wrote Cheney and Desiderio, “is a sweeping repudiation of Trump’s claim to be largely immune from congressional scrutiny, particularly in matters of potential legal violations” and “emphasizes that lawmakers have the authority to investigate Trump’s conduct from both before and after he took office.”

What Congress can investigate is not at issue. What is at issue is what it can compel the Executive Branch to produce in the way of witnesses or documents – a fact the story does not mention.

The ruling represents the first time a federal judge has ruled on questions of what evidence can be compelled and may not stand up under even its first challenge, but the Politico team stated it “is likely to provide a blueprint for other judges who are set to make their own rulings on Trump’s vow to defy all congressional subpoenas.”

The 41-page opinion “systematically dismantled the Trump legal team’s arguments against the validity of the subpoena – and he pushed back on claims from congressional Republicans that the House Judiciary Committee must formally launch an impeachment inquiry before issuing such subpoenas.”

Politico reported Mehta “noted that Congress had twice investigated alleged illegal activity by presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton” and the judge stated “Congress plainly views itself as having 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.”

Politico also reported that the president sued last month to block the subpoena, “arguing that it amounted to an improper and overtly political abuse of congressional authority.”

But it then reported “Mehta eviscerated that argument, too, emphasizing that a judge’s analysis of a congressional investigation ‘must be highly deferential to the legislative branch.’” Therefore, the judge couldn’t get into the business of determining whether the investigation was in service of legitimate legislative goals or political retribution.

The ruling “wasn’t entirely unexpected,” Politico reported, because last week, “the judge cast serious doubts” on arguments put forth by President Trump’s legal team.  

It closed by saying, “Trump and his GOP allies have argued that the Democrats’ probes are illegitimate and amount to an abuse of power.” It offers no explanation of why Republicans say this.

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