WASHINGTON — President Trump’s accounting firm must turn over his financial records to Congress, a Federal District Court judge ruled on Monday, rejecting his legal team’s argument that lawmakers had no legitimate power to subpoena the files.
But Mr. Trump’s legal team is virtually certain to appeal the ruling rather than permit the firm, Mazars USA, to comply with the subpoena and the ruling, so the legal fight is far from over.
The ruling by the judge, Amit P. Mehta of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, was an early judicial test of the president’s vow to systematically stonewall “all” subpoenas by House Democrats, stymieing their ability to perform oversight of Mr. Trump and the executive branch after winning control of the chamber in last year’s midterm elections.
Mr. Trump’s legal team, led by William S. Consovoy, had argued that the House House Committee on Oversight and Reform had no legitimate legislative purpose in seeking Mr. Trump’s financial records and was just trying to dig up dirt — like finding out whether the president broke any laws — for political reasons, so the subpoena exceeded its constitutional authority.
But Democrats have said they need the records because they are examining whether foreigners are in a position to use business dealings with the president to exert hidden influence over American policymaking, and whether ethics and disclosure laws need to be strengthened.
Judge Mehta said that justification was sufficient to make the subpoena valid.
“These are facially valid legislative purposes, and it is not for the court to question whether the committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations,” he wrote. “Accordingly, the court will enter judgment in favor of the Oversight Committee.”
The judge — an appointee of former President Barack Obama — also rejected Mr. Consovoy’s request that, were he to rule against Mr. Trump, he issue a stay of his ruling until the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia completed its review of the case.
The judge said that the Mr. Trump’s legal arguments were too thin to merit a stay because they did not raise a “serious legal question,” and said that issuing such a stay would amount to interfering with the constitutional powers of Congress.
“The court is well aware that this case involves records concerning the private and business affairs of the president of the United States,” he wrote. “But on the question of whether to grant a stay pending appeal, the president is subject to the same legal standard as any other litigant that does not prevail.”
But Judge Mehta had appeared to signal initial skepticism about Mr. Consovoy’s arguments during a May 14 hearing, pointing to several past congressional inquiries — like the Watergate inquiry of President Richard M. Nixon and the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton — that would seem to be illegitimate under the Trump legal team’s rationale.
During that hearing, the general counsel for the House, Douglas Letter, had urged the judge to not let the Trump team drag out matters and run out the clock on Congress’s oversight powers.
“Any delay undermines the House’s ability to do what the Constitution allows it to do,” Mr. Letter said at the hearing.