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Democrats get closer to prying loose Trump's financial records

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving the White House on Monday for a campaign rally in Montoursville, Pa. Credit: AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta

Balance sheets of power

For Democrats looking to dig into Donald Trump's secrets, his private financial records are a Holy Grail. A court ruling in Washington and legislative developments in Albany on Monday put them closer to the prize.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said Trump cannot block a House oversight committee subpoena of financial records from Mazars USA, an accountant for the president and the Trump Organization. Mehta rejected the argument by Trump's lawyers that the subpoena "has no legitimate legislative purpose."

The judge noted the Democratic-led panel's contention that the documents would help them consider strengthening ethics and disclosure laws, among other things.

"It is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations," the judge wrote. As for the legislative branch's broader authority, Mehta said "It is simply not fathomable" that the Constitution that "grants Congress the power to remove a president for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present." 

Speaking with reporters, Trump called Mehta’s ruling “ridiculous” and said his lawyers will appeal. He also noted that Mehta was appointed by President Barack Obama.

In Albany, the state Assembly is set to approve a bill Wednesday that would allow Congress to get Trump’s state tax returns, potentially giving Democrats a way around the Trump administration's rejection of the request by House Ways and Means Committee. Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said it's a type of “in case of emergency, break glass” legislation, Newsday's Yancey Roy reports.

Muting McGahn

The White House kept up its fight on another front to frustrate Democratic investigators, ordering former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a subpoena to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Pat Cipollone, the current White House counsel, argued McGahn's previous dealings with Trump are protected by “constitutional immunity.” House Democrats have argued that shield fell when McGahn told special counsel Robert Mueller about the president's efforts to contain the Russia investigation, which have raised questions about potential obstruction of justice.

While now a private citizen, McGahn risks reprisals against his law firm, not to mention his career, if he chooses to obey the subpoena. Trump has mused about instructing Republicans to cease dealing with the firm, The Associated Press reported. But the committee could move to cite him for contempt of Congress for refusing to talk. A lawyer for McGahn said the former counsel feels "obligated" to follow Trump's directive.

The committee “will convene as planned tomorrow morning, and Mr. McGahn is expected to appear,” said its chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan). For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Janison: Taunting Tehran

Since his "fire and fury" days with Kim Jong Un gave way to gushing about their rapport. Trump's apocalyptic Twitter threats don't carry quite the same shock-and-awe value.

But Newsday's Dan Janison cautions that past performance is no guarantee of future results. That should be kept in mind as Trump saber-rattles at Iran in a similar way. "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Never threaten the United States again!”

One statement from Tehran made it hard to believe they were taking Trump either seriously or literally. "Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone," tweeted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. "#EconomicTerrorism & genocidal taunts won't 'end Iran.' #NeverThreatenAnIranian. Try respect-it works!"

EPA counts on dirty math

Trump's Environmental Protection Agency wants to roll back an Obama-era climate change regulation, but there's a problem — a calculation that the increase in air pollution from coal-burning power plants would be to blame for 1,400 more premature deaths a year.

The New York Times reports that the solution EPA is now considering would change how the health risk from fine particulate matter is measured. The proposed methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. Many experts said that was bad science. The pollutant is linked to heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease.

Corrosion in rust belt

Trump did a rally in central Pennsylvania Monday night as his campaign's own polling is showing him in trouble in three crucial rust belt states that gave him the victory in 2016, according to Politico.

The visit to Pennsylvania follows other recent trips to Wisconsin and Michigan. His campaign's research shows him trailing Democratic front-runner Joe Biden in each state that he won by less than 1 percentage point.

CNN notes that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren also led Trump in head-to-head matchups in Pennsylvania, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

A czar is born?

Trump has been considering naming an "immigration czar" to coordinate policy across agencies. One candidate looked at is Kris Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state who previously led Trump's ill-fated voter fraud commission. Kobach came with a list of 10 demands, The New York Times reported.

Among them: 24/7 access to a government jet that could fly him to the southern border — and then back home to Kansas for the weekends, which he wanted off for family time. An office in the West Wing, and Oval Office walk-in privileges. The power to give orders to the secretaries of Homeland Security, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Interior and Commerce. A promise that he will be nominated to be Homeland Security secretary by Nov. 1.

Some administration officials found Kobach's conditions presumptuous, the report said.

Palestinians pan peace plan

The Trump administration has taken the wraps off one phase of Jared Kushner's long-awaited Mideast peace plan. It would promote large-scale investment and infrastructure work, much of it funded by wealthy Arab countries, in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian Authority said it will boycott a late June conference in Bahrain on the initiative because it’s focused on economic issues rather than the political disputes at the heart of its conflict with Israel. "We will not succumb to blackmailing and extortion and will not trade our national rights for money,” said Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

What else is happening:

  • Ed Cox, ousted Monday as New York State Republican chairman after 10 years, landed a finance job with the Trump re-election campaign hours later, Newsday's Roy reports.
  • Democratic 2020 candidate Kamala Harris unveiled a plan to close the gender wage gap by fining companies that fail to show they are paying men and women equally.
  • If the president goes through with 25% tariffs on nearly everything China exports to the United States, the higher consumer prices could amount to a tax hike of more than $2,000 on the average American family, Politico reports.
  • Biden's strength among Democrats since entering the race has surprised those who believed a critical mass of the party's voters want it to make a hard left turn in 2020, The Washington Post writes.
  • Trump tweeted about a New York Times report about Deutsche Bank employees flagging suspicious transactions involving him, but that's not the part he pushed back on. It was the notion, widely reported elsewhere, that he dealt with the German bank because others shunned him. See Newsday's story by Figueroa.
  • Attorney General William Barr, accused by critics of acting like Trump's personal lawyer instead of an independent law enforcement official, told The Wall Street Journal he’s protecting the presidency, not the president. “I felt the rules were being changed to hurt Trump," Barr said.

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