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Appeals court sends lawsuit over Trump financial records back to lower court

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak about the administration’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing plan in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, September 28, 2020.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

A federal appeals court Wednesday kicked a legal battle over President Donald Trump’s financial statements back to a lower court, further delaying House Democrats’ efforts to obtain years of the president’s personal and business records.

In its ruling, a panel of three judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated a prior district court judgment and aligned itself with a Supreme Court ruling over the summer that ordered lower courts to more carefully consider questions about the separation of powers in the case.

Two of those appellate judges were appointed by Democratic presidents, and one was appointed by Trump.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee in 2019 had issued a subpoena for eight years’ worth of Trump’s records from the accounting firm Mazars USA. The panel’s Democratic majority said it sought the records as part of its legislative and oversight duties, and as part of ongoing investigations.

Trump’s lawyers have sought to block the release of the records, arguing that Congress was engaged in a fishing expedition to hurt him politically.

A U.S. district court judge and a federal appeals panel had previously upheld the subpoena. But the Supreme Court in July raised concerns about the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.

In their brief ruling Wednesday, the appellate judges noted that they “express no view as to whether this case will become moot when the subpoena expires or as to the merits of the parties’ arguments.”

The Oversight panel said that Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., intends to reissue the subpoena to Mazars at the start of the next Congress.

“It remains critically important that the Oversight Committee—and the House more broadly—be able to secure prompt subpoena enforcement without the risk that investigative subjects will thwart its efforts through litigation delay,” counsel for the committee told the appeals court earlier in December.

A spokeswoman for the Oversight Committee did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the appeals court’s judgment. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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