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Trump loses appeal over House subpoena for financial records



A federal appeals court ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s accounting firm must turn over financial records requested by a House committee, a legal blow to the administration’s efforts to block congressional investigations of his finances.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a subpoena to Mazars USA, in April asking for documents related to Trump’s accounts going back to January 2009. His lawyers sued to block the subpoena, arguing that Congress had no legitimate legislative purpose for getting the materials.

But in a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the committee “possesses authority under both the House rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply.”

The appeals court put a seven-day hold on the legal effect of its ruling, which will give Trump’s lawyers time to appeal. The president’s lawyers could fight the ruling before the full appeals court or by going directly to the Supreme Court.

“While we are reviewing the court’s lengthy decision, as well as Judge Rao’s dissent, we continue to believe that this subpoena is not a legitimate exercise of Congress’s legislative authority,” Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow told NBC News.

House Democrats said they needed the documents to investigate whether the president accurately filled out the required financial disclosure forms. Trump’s former longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, told Congress in February that Trump “inflated his assets when it served his purposes” and deflated his assets in others.

Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Cohen’s testimony and other documents “raise grave questions about whether the President has been accurate in his financial reporting.”

In a statement Friday, Cummings called the appeals court’s ruling “a fundamental and resounding victory for Congressional oversight, our Constitutional system of checks and balances, and the rule of law.”

“For far too long, the President has placed his personal interests over the interests of the American people,” Cummings said, adding that the committee must “fulfill our stated legislative and oversight objectives and permit the American people to obtain answers about some of the deeply troubling questions regarding the President’s adherence to Constitutional and statutory requirements to avoid conflicts of interest.”

Trump’s lawyers went to the appeals court after a federal judge in Washington ruled that the accounting firm must turn over the materials sought by subpoena.

“Having considered the weighty interests at stake in this case, we conclude that the subpoena issued by the Committee to Mazars is valid and enforceable,” the appeals court said Friday, adding, “Disputes between Congress and the president are a recurring plot in our national story.”

Judges David Tatel and Patricia Millett, who were appointed by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, respectively, voted in favor of the committee. In her dissent, Judge Neomi Rao, who was appointed by Trump, said the House exceeded its authority in issuing the subpoena.

“The Constitution and our historical practice draw a consistent line between the legislative and judicial powers of Congress,” Rao wrote. “The majority crosses this boundary for the first time by upholding this subpoena investigating the illegal conduct of the President under the legislative power.”

“When the House chooses to investigate the President for alleged violations of the laws and the Constitution, it must proceed through impeachment, an exceptional and solemn exercise of judicial power established as a separate check on public officials,” she wrote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the court’s decision a “major victory” in a statement on Friday.

“The court rejected the administration’s defiance of Congress’s oversight authority,” she said, later adding, “The president’s actions threaten our national security, violate our constitution and undermine the integrity of our elections. No one is above the law. The President will be held accountable.”

New York case

Friday’s decision came in a case separate from other efforts by Congress and a prosecutor in New York to get access to the president’s tax returns. That legal battle is still working its way through the courts.

In the New York case, the president is seeking to block prosecutors from obtaining his financial records related to hush-money payments made ahead of the 2016 presidential election to two women who claim to have had extramarital affairs with Trump. Trump has denied the affairs.

Trump’s attorneys argued that he was immune from criminal investigations as president, but on Monday, Manhattan federal Judge Victor Marrero rejected that lawsuit, arguing that it was “unqualified and boundless.”

Trump swiftly appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued a stay on the subpoena until it considers all of the arguments.

Kristen Welker contributed.

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More Cubans are being deported under the Trump administration



MIAMI — After seeking asylum in the United States at the Mexican border, Pablo Sánchez was placed in a detention center and is now facing what has become an increasingly common scenario under President Donald Trump: deportation to Cuba.

Since the end of the Obama administration, the number of Cubans deported from the U.S. has increased more than tenfold to more than 800 in the past year as the Trump administration enforces a new policy inked just days before it took over. It is also imposing its own sharp limits on who is eligible for asylum. That’s an unwelcome development for growing numbers of asylum-seeking Cubans who had long benefited from a generous U.S. approach and their government’s unwillingness to take its people back.

For decades, Cubans fleeing the communist-governed island had for the most part enjoyed unique privileges. Even after the cold war ended, they were given a certain path to legal residence once they touched U.S. soil through the policy known as “wet foot, dry foot.”

But an agreement reached during the final days of the Obama administration ended that and required Cuba to take back citizens who receive deportation orders going forward and consider on a case-by-case basis the return of the thousands of other Cubans who had received such orders over the decades but remained in the U.S. because their country wouldn’t take them back.

Since Trump took office, more Cubans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border have encountered new limits, including a policy introduced last month that denies protection to asylum seekers who have passed through another country before reaching Mexico and have not sought asylum there.

Despite the new agreement, Cuba remains reluctant to take its people back, and is one of 10 countries that the U.S. government labels “recalcitrant.” That makes it difficult for the administration to enforce its aggressive measures against asylum — and leaves many Cubans in limbo.

Many, like Sánchez, are baffled by their predicament.

Sánchez is married to Barbara Rodríguez, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Miami, but was unable to apply for a visa in Cuba to join his wife in the U.S. because the Trump administration pulled most of its embassy staff out, outsourcing family-related visa petitions to consular services in Colombia or Guyana. Rodríguez claims Sánchez was facing increasing political persecution after having brushes with local authorities over such episodes as damaging a referendum ballot as a sign of protest.

The couple agreed he had to get out of Cuba, saying they had learned he was being investigated and could face jail time. Feeling they had no time to waste — and with no visa services available in Cuba — Sánchez traveled to Nicaragua and through Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S., at a port of entry where authorities detained him and later sent him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for long-term custody.

“This is plain cruel, despite arriving in this country and demonstrating that you are persecuted and that you have credible fear. After all, this gets thrown away,” said his wife, Rodríguez, who talks to Sánchez on the phone daily. “The worse thing is that now I feel all that is left for him is deportation.”

It is unclear how the Cuban government treats people who are deported from the U.S., but rights advocates and lawyers say they could face retaliation for claiming asylum, especially those who claimed they were being persecuted. By contrast, deportees to Mexico and Central American countries typically get a warm welcome home.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla told The Associated Press the increase in deportations stems from the country “diligently fulfilling its commitments” outlined in the accord with the Obama administration, but at the same time he blasted the U.S. for cutting consular services in Havana.

“It is a shame to politicize the human bond between people and between nations,” he said.

A chartered U.S. government flight landed in Havana on Sept. 27 with 96 Cubans aboard, and another with 120 arrived Aug. 30. U.S. officials say Cuba’s acceptance of this limited number of deportees is a small step, but they believe the nation is still largely unwilling to work with the U.S. on repatriations. They note 39,243 Cubans living in the U.S. with deportation orders.

“Cuba is kind of a thorn in their side in this area,” said Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Cuba remains on a U.S. government list of “recalcitrant” nations with nine other countries: China, Vietnam, Iran, Bhutan, Cambodia, Eritrea, Hong Kong, Laos and Pakistan.

About 21,000 Cubans have presented themselves to officials at U.S.-Mexico crossings since last October, triple the number seen the previous 12 months, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.

Thousands more Cubans have been stranded in northern Mexico cities on wait lists to request asylum and through a program that forces migrants to wait south of the border for their asylum cases to play out.

Of the Cubans who have been allowed into the U.S., many have been released from custody while they await court dates for their asylum cases, but hundreds have been turned over to ICE custody.

About 5,000 Cubans have received deportation orders since the new U.S.-Cuba agreement, and 1,300 of them have been deported, according to ICE data.

Luis Dayan Palmero left Cuba in April, traveling from Guyana to Brazil and Colombia, before passing through Central America and arriving in northern Mexico in August.

He crossed the Rio Grande and surrendered to Border Patrol agents, who sent him to Matamoros, Mexico. He now has a U.S. court appearing set this month.

“I plan to ask for asylum, and whatever happens is what God wants,” Palmero said.

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Prince’s estate says Trump campaign broke pledge by playing ‘Purple Rain’ at Minneapolis rally



The Trump campaign struck the wrong chord with the estate of music legend Prince.

The song “Purple Rain” was played at a Trump campaign rally Thursday night in Minneapolis, the city where Prince was born.

The song, which is not in the regular rotation on the campaign’s playlist, was played at Thursday’s rally before the president took the stage. It was interrupted midway through so that the campaign manager could announce Trump was in the building.

Prince’s estate promptly responded to the campaign’s use of the song — with documentation.

In a statement posted on Prince’s Twitter account, his estate shared an Oct. 15, 2018, letter in which Trump campaign officials acknowledged receipt of a letter from the singer’s representatives requesting they refrain from using Prince’s music at any campaign events. The letter promised to abide by the request.

“Without admitting liability, and to avoid any future dispute, we write to confirm that the Campaign will not use Prince’s music in connection with its activities going forward,” the letter states.

The campaign declined to comment Friday.

During the president’s rally at the Target Center on Thursday, Trump brought up the names of some other star musicians, suggesting he did not need the backing of celebrity performers to win in 2016.

“I didn’t need Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and I didn’t need little Bruce Springsteen and all these people,” he said. Beyoncé and Jay-Z performed at a Hillary Clinton rally in early November 2016.

Like Prince’s estate, other big-name musicians have asked the Trump campaign not to use their music.

In November 2018, Rihanna signaled she was upset that the campaign played her 2007 single “Don’t Stop the Music” at an event.

After it was reported that the song was played at a Trump campaign rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the singer replied: “Not for much longer.”

“Me nor my people would ever be at or around one of those tragic rallies,” the singer said.

Others who have said they objected to having their songs played at Trump campaign rallies include Axl Rose of Guns N’Roses and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Tyler has said he doesn’t want his music played at any political events.

Monica Alba contributed.

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