Legal Guide

How Trump v. Mazars Is Shaping Jan. 6 Investigation, According to Attorney Samuel Dewey

A 2020 Supreme Court ruling set a precedent for how Congress is able to investigate a President (and possibly a former President).  Attorney Samuel Dewey says Trump v. Mazars had a relatively limited scope when it was passed, but it's having a profound impact on how the House committee investigating the insurrection of January 6, 2021, is proceeding.

Mazars dealt with Congress’ ability to investigate a president. While Mazar’s involved a dispute over access to a sitting President’s financial information, it is already proving to have a long-lasting effect on congressional investigations even after a President has left the White House.

What the Mazars Ruling Said

Mazars holds that the personal information of a sitting president is not completely shielded from potential congressional investigations.

At the same time, the ruling established a four-factor test for adjudicating Congressional subpoenas for a President’s personal information that was both new and more restrictive then that suggested by prior precedent.

The case in question dealt with then-President Donald Trump seeking to block several House committees from obtaining his personal financial records from his accountants.  The high court ruled that Congress had the power to investigate personal matters of a President, so long as it would be in the normal service of its power to legislate given to it under the Constitution.

How the House is Using Mazars

The House committee investigating the events of January 6, 2021, has consistently cited Mazar’ to support the position that Congress has a fairly broad ability to require production of Presidential records. 

Members of the Committee have also cited the ruling in proceedings to hold putatively recalcitrant witnesses in contempt of Congress..

In those referrals, the House cited to Mazars’ holding that all citizens have a duty to cooperate with Congress when it is seeking information that's “needed for intelligent legislative action.”  It’s one of the bases for the committee's cases against Steve Bannon, Jeffrey Clark, and Mark Meadows.

Ironically, those who have filed suit against the House committee have cited Mazars as well, saying they should have to abide by the subpoenas or turn over the information that's being requested of them.

The Outcome

Thus far, the House’s investigative committee has been successful in using the Mazars’ decision to its benefit.  As Sam Dewey explains, they have obtained those personal documents from the Trump administration that they’ve requested, and the DOJ has moved forward with formal criminal charges against Bannon.

Much of that may have to do with the fact that Mazars dealt with access to the private information of a sitting President. In contrast the January 6 witness are seeking to shield information from an ex-President that in many cases involves official business.

About Samuel Dewey

Samuel Dewey is a successful lawyer and former Senior Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee and Chief Investigator and Counsel to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. Mr. Dewey specializes in:  (1) white-collar investigations, compliance, and litigation; (2) regulatory compliance and litigation; and (3) complex public policy matters.  Within these fields, Mr. Dewey is considered an expert in Congressional investigations and attendant matters. Mr. Dewey has a B.A. in Political Science, a J.D. from Harvard, and is admitted to practice law in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

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