Even before he entered the White House, Donald Trump had made more than 3,000 appearances in court—many of them related to his tendency to promise to pay now, actually pay never. It’s not clear how many of those 3,000 cases Trump lost, but for many of them the point was never about the verdict; It was about punishing some smaller company by throwing Trump’s current salaried “fixer” at it and forcing it to either expend thousands or settle for a fraction of what it was owed.
Unfortunately for Trump, it doesn’t really work that way when Congress is on the other side of the courtroom. Again and again, Trump has tried to block access to his tax filings, his business dealings, and his instructions to White House officials. Again and again, he has lost these fights in court.
Back in May, a U.S. district court judge ruled against both Trump and his children to declare that Deutsche Bank and Capital One were actually required to turn over financial documents they held from the Trumps to Congress in response to subpoenas. Both banks had been blocked from providing the information after Trump sued on claims of personal privacy. The May ruling was particularly important because it specifically stated that Congress has the right to conduct investigations of the executive branch.
However, the Department of Justice immediately appealed the case on Trump’s orders, and between administrative stays and formal appeals, the documents are still sitting at Deutsche Bank. But that may not remain the case much longer.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court rejected Trump’s effort to block the release, stating that Congress’ need to pursue its legislative function is “a far more significant public interest” than “whatever public interest” there is in protecting Trump’s private financial transactions. The DOJ’s appeal was denied, the administrative stay lifted, and the documents held by Deutsche Bank are—theoretically—now to be released. However, it can be expected that the Trump-Barr DOJ will hop in one last time in hopes that Judge I Like Beer will act to prevent Deutsche Bank from revealing the details of Trump’s loans.
Multiple sources have indicated that Trump is anxious to cover details of these loans at least in part because he claimed much greater value for some of his assets when reporting them on loan applications than he did when reporting those same assets for tax purposes. Which would be a violation.
This ruling was made at almost the same time that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who ruled last week that former White House counsel Don McGahn must obey a congressional subpoena to testify before the impeachment inquiry, removed a stay on that order.
It’s unclear at this point whether the Supreme Court would accept a further appeal of the appeals court’s decision on the Deutsche Bank documents. But it certainly seems possible, considering the other aspects of congressional authority vs. executive privilege already before the court. It seems likely that the current Supreme Court is going to have a chance to define the previously blurry boundaries of executive vs. congressional authority—and it’s going to do it while being helmed by an overwhelmingly conservative majority that believes heavily in the unitary executive theory. Trump just lost another big one in court, but there’s still a chance he’s going to make America the big loser in the long run.