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Following Paranoid Facebook Rant, HHS Flack Caputo On Leave

The Trump administration health official embroiled in a furor over political meddling with the coronavirus response is taking a leave of absence, the government announced Wednesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that Michael Caputo was taking the time "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family."

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Whistleblower Puts DHS Nominee Wolf Under Sharp Scrutiny

A whistleblower's complaint and a tight timeline are making it increasingly unlikely that the Senate will confirm Chad Wolf as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security before the election.

Donald Trump formally sent the nomination late Thursday to the Senate after announcing his intention to appoint Wolf in a tweet last month. But Republican senators, who are fighting to keep their majority in November, appear in no rush to launch a heated confirmation that will force uncomfortable questions about whether agency actions were driven by Trump's political agenda.

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Democrats Accuse Trump Of ‘Fanning The Flames’ Of Violence

Democrats have charged Donald Trump with aiming to inflame tensions and incite violence after he praised supporters who clashed with protesters in Portland, Oregon, where one man died overnight, and announced he will travel to Kenosha, Wisconsin, amid anger over the shooting of another Black man by police.

Trump unleashed a flurry of tweets and retweets the day after a man identified as a supporter of a right-wing group was shot and killed in Portland, where a large caravan of Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters clashed in the city's streets. Trump praised the caravan participants as "GREAT PATRIOTS!" and retweeted what appeared to be the dead man's name along with a message to "Rest in peace."

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Supreme Court Orders Montana To Fund Religious Schools

States can't cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education, a divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

By a 5-4 vote with the conservatives in the majority, the justices upheld a Montana scholarship program that allows state tax credits for private schooling in which almost all the recipients attend religious schools.

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International Criminal Court Condemns Trump’s ‘Unacceptable Attempt To Interfere’ With Prosecutions

The International Criminal Court has condemned the Trump administration's decision to authorize sanctions against court staff, saying it amounted to "an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court's judicial proceedings."

An executive order by Donald Trump announced Thursday authorizes sanctions against ICC staff investigating American troops and intelligence officials and those of allied nations, including Israel, for possible war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

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Far-Right Extremists Arrested In Floyd Protest Plot

Three Nevada men with ties to a loose movement of right-wing extremists advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government have been arrested on terrorism-related charges in what authorities say was a conspiracy to spark violence during recent protests in Las Vegas.

Federal prosecutors say the three white men with U.S. military experience are accused of conspiring to carry out a plan that began in April in conjunction with protests to reopen businesses closed because of the coronavirus.

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Sen. Graham Seeks Subpoenas To Hype ‘Obamagate’ Conspiracy

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham is scheduling a vote that would allow him to subpoena more than 50 current and former officials who were involved in the Justice Department's investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, as Donald Trump and his allies have launched a broad election-year attack on the investigation as a "deep state" conspiracy.

Graham, a close ally of Trump, is effectively turning the investigation on the investigators, asking the officials for documents, communications, and testimony about the FBI's investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.

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Trump Is Playing A Deadly Numbers Game — And Losing

Donald Trump likes to talk about the most, the best, the thing that nobody has ever seen.

Now he is trying to make a virtue of a lower number, arguing that the efforts of his administration have warded off a far greater death toll than otherwise would have been seen.

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Pelosi Warns That Trump’s Lies Are Costing Lives

As Donald Trump spoke during his daily coronavirus briefing Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a stark warning for Americans to "ignore the lies" and "insist on the truth" while the U.S. assesses next steps in the crisis.

Pelosi's scathing outline of Trump's monthslong handling of the virus outbreak contrasted with his eagerness to reopen the economy.

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Pentagon Says 109 Troops Have Suffered Brain Injuries From Iran Strike

The number of U.S. service members diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries has shot up to more than 100, the Pentagon said Monday, as more troops suffer the aftereffects of the Iranian ballistic missile attack early last month in Iraq.

The department said the latest total is 109 military members who have been treated for mild TBI, a significant increase over the 64 reported a little over a week ago.

The number of injuries has been steadily increasing since the Pentagon began releasing data on the injuries about a week after the Jan. 8 attack at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq. Pentagon officials have warned that the number would continue to change.

The department said 76 of the service members have returned to duty, while 26 are in Germany or the United States for treatment, and another seven are on their way from Iraq to Germany for evaluation and treatment.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Pentagon reporters more than a week ago that the department was studying ways to prevent brain injuries on the battlefield and to improve diagnosis and treatment.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it’s possible, in some cases, that symptoms of TBI from the Iranian missile attack won’t become apparent for a year or two. He said the Army is in the early stages of diagnosis and therapy for the troops.

In a statement Monday, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah credited medical professionals with provide care “which has enabled nearly 70 percent of those diagnosed to return to duty. We must continue to address physical and mental health together.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Fires Sondland And Vindman Over Impeachment Inquiry

Taking swift and harsh action against those who crossed him, Donald Trump on Friday ousted two government officials who had delivered damaging testimony during his impeachment hearings. Trump made the moves just two days after his acquittal by the Senate.

First came news that Trump had ousted Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, the decorated soldier and national security aide who played a central role in the Democrats’ impeachment case. He was escorted out of the White House complex Friday, according to his lawyer, who said he was asked to leave in retaliation for “telling the truth.”

“The truth has cost Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy,” David Pressman, an attorney for Vindman, said in a statement. The Army said in a statement that Vindman and his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who also was asked to leave his job as a White House lawyer on Friday, had been reassigned to the Army.

Next came word that Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, also was out.

“I was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union,” Sondland said in a statement.

Alexander Vindman’s lawyer issued a one-page statement that accused Trump of taking revenge on his client.

“He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day: he followed orders, he obeyed his oath, and he served his country, even when doing so was fraught with danger and personal peril,” Pressman said. “And for that, the most powerful man in the world — buoyed by the silent, the pliable, and the complicit — has decided to exact revenge.”

The White House did not respond to Pressman’s accusation.

“We do not comment on personnel matters,” said John Ullyot, spokesman for the National Security Council, the foreign policy arm of the White House where Vindman was an expert on Ukraine.

Vindman’s status had been uncertain since he testified that he didn’t think it was “proper” for Trump to “demand that a foreign government investigate” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s dealings with the energy company Burisma in Ukraine. Vindman’s ouster, however, seemed imminent after Trump mocked him Thursday during his post-acquittal celebration with Republican supporters in the East Room and said Friday that he was not happy with him.

“You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. “I’m not. … They are going to be making that decision.”

Vindman, a 20-year Army veteran, wore his uniform full of medals, including a purple heart, when he appeared late last year for what turned out to be a testy televised impeachment hearing. Trump supporters raised questions about the immigrant’s allegiance to the United States — his parents fled the Soviet Union when he was a child —and noted that he had received offers to work for the government of Ukraine, offers Vindman said he swiftly dismissed.

“I am an American,” he stated emphatically.

Trump backers cheered Vindman’s removal, while Democrats were aghast.

“The White House is running a two for one special today on deep state leakers,” Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican, wrote on Twitter.

A Twitter account used by Trump’s reelection campaign, @TrumpWarRoom, claimed Vindman leaked information to the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s call ignited the investigation, and “colluded with Democrats to start the partisan impeachment coup.”

Former Trump NSC official Tim Morrison testified that others had brought concerns that Vindman may have leaked something. Vindman, in his own congressional testimony, denied leaking any information.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the firing was another example of how the “White House runs away from the truth.”

“Lt. Col. Vindman lived up to his oath to protect and defend our Constitution,” Schumer said in a statement. “This action is not a sign of strength. It only shows President Trump’s weakness.”

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, recalled how Vindman in testimony before the House impeachment panel said that he reassured his worried father that would be “fine for telling the truth.”

“It’s appalling that this administration may prove him wrong,” Clinton said in a tweet.

At last fall’s hearing, when the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, addressed him as “Mr. Vindman,” the Iraq War veteran replied: “Ranking member, it’s Lt. Col. Vindman please.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked what the Pentagon would do to ensure that Vindman faces no retribution. “We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything like that,” Esper said. “We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means.”

Alexander Vindman is scheduled to enter a military college in Washington, D.C., this summer, and his brother is to be assigned to the Army General Counsel’s Office, according to two officials who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pressman said Vindman was among a handful of men and women who courageously “put their faith in country ahead of fear” but have “paid a price.”

“There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House,” Pressman said. “Lt. Col. Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.”

Justice Department Urges Prison For Flynn

Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn deserves up to six months in prison, the Justice Department said Tuesday, reversing its earlier stance.

Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States, including about his request that Russia not escalate tensions with the U.S. in response to sanctions imposed by the Obama administration for election interference.

At the time, he was the closest Trump associate to agree to cooperate in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. He met repeatedly with prosecutors over the following months as they investigated whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to sway the election.

He was to have been sentenced in December 2018. But the hearing was upended when a sharp rebuke from a judge raised the prospect that he might send Flynn to prison even though prosecutors hadn’t sought that punishment. Flynn asked for the hearing to be postponed so he could continue cooperating with the government in hopes of avoiding prison and proving his value as a witness.

The case has taken a tumultuous turn since then.

The Justice Department opted not to have Flynn testify in the Virginia trial of a former business associate, denying him a chance to be credited for that cooperation.

He also fired his lawyers and replaced them with new ones who have taken a strikingly contentious stance toward Mueller’s investigation and accused prosecutors of withholding documents and other information that they said was favorable to Flynn. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected each of the defense arguments in a lengthy opinion earlier this month.

Flynn is one of a half dozen Trump associates charged in the Mueller investigation. All six have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty in a jury trial.

Flynn’s lawyers have until Jan. 13 to respond. Sentencing is set for Jan. 28.

Rep. Lewis, Civil Rights Icon, Battling Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer

Reprinted with permission from American Independent Foundation

As a civil rights activist at 25, John Lewis was beaten so badly his skull was fractured and the TV images from an Alabama bridge in the 1960s forced a nation’s awakening to racial discrimination. As a congressman today at 79, Lewis is facing a foe like none before: advanced pancreatic cancer.

The veteran Democrat congressman from Georgia has fought many struggles in his lifetime. Yet, he said, “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” announcing Sunday in Washington that the cancer was detected earlier this month and confirmed in a diagnosis.

Lewis has had many battles, and this he views as one more dawning. He was arrested at least 40 times in the civil rights era, several more times as a congressman since being elected in 1986 and only recently he has been rallying to help reunite immigrant families separated by the Trump administration.

The youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, a group once led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis made clear that he has no plans to step aside from power while he undergoes treatment.

He said being elected to Congress “has been the honor of a lifetime” and that he will continue working for his constituents from Capitol Hill.

“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said.

Added Lewis: “I have a fighting chance.”

He declined to say where he would receive cancer treatment or what that would entail. But he said he may not always be around the halls of Congress in the coming weeks.

“I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God’s grace I will be back on the front lines soon,” he said in asking for prayers.

Lewis also said he was “clear-eyed about the prognosis” even as doctors have told him that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases. He added that “treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were.”

The American Cancer Society estimates 3% of patients with stage 4 pancreatic cancer are alive five years after being diagnosed.

Sometimes called the “conscience of the Congress,” Lewis led hundreds of protesters in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He was at the head of the march when he was knocked to the ground and beaten by police. The nationally televised images forced the country’s attention on the racial inequalities being fought by King and so many others.

Lewis turned to politics in 1981, when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council.

In 2011 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, who had marched with Lewis hand in hand in Selma on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday attack.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those who sent her best wishes to Lewis after the announcement of his illness.

“We are all praying for you following this diagnosis. John, know that generations of Americans have you in their thoughts & prayers as you face this fight.” She said in a statement. “We are all praying that you are comfortable. We know that you will be well.”

Pentagon Probing Company That Got Border Wall Deal Via Fox News

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

The Defense Department’s internal watchdog is investigating a $400 million border wall contract awarded to a firm that used multiple appearances on Fox News to push for the job.

The Pentagon’s inspector general sent a letter Thursday to House Homeland Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson telling him the contract awarded to North Dakota-based firm Fisher Sand and Gravel Co. would be audited. Thompson, D-Miss., asked for the review last week, in part over concerns the proposals did not meet operational requirements and prototypes came in late and over budget.

Tommy Fisher, the head of the family business, said Thursday there would be “nothing to find” in an audit.

“We were told we were the lowest price and the best value,” he said. “We look forward to working with the Army Corps of Engineers.”

The border wall is one of Trump’s top priorities. He campaigned on a promise to build a “big beautiful wall” between the U.S. and Mexico,” said Mexico would pay for it, and promised to build 450 to 500 miles by the end of 2020. Mexico is not paying for the wall and, as of Nov. 1, Trump had built 78 miles.

Trump’s effort to push through funding, using money from the Pentagon after Congress refused to fund the wall has been met with resistance and lawsuits. A federal judge this week blocked the administration from spending some Defense Department money on the the barrier.

The company was awarded a contract Dec. 2 to build 31 miles of wall in Arizona, part of a series of contracts to push out increased mileage. Fisher had made a number of appearances on Trump’s favorite cable news channel — Fox News — talking about his desire to win a contract. His firm, though, has little experience with such construction and a previous proposal was rejected.

Fisher said his company could do the work for $13 million a mile. He said the next closest bid was $20 million a mile.

A letter from the Army Corps when Fisher was awarded the contract said the company’s proposal was both technically acceptable, and the best priced.

Two administration officials familiar with the matter told The Associated Press this year that Trump aggressively pushed the Fisher firm’s bid with the heads of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages wall contracts. The interference in federal contracting by Trump concerned some overseeing the process but, the officials said, Trump insisted Fisher could get the wall up faster and cheaper than other bidders. Thompson had said one of his concerns was that officials from Homeland Security, the department managing border security, had toured a private barrier built by the company shortly before the contract was awarded.

The Pentagon watchdog said it was assessing how to complete the audit and would formally announce it soon.

Thompson said he was pleased.

“The company had never been awarded a construction contract before and their wall prototype was late and over budget,” he said in a statement. “Given the President’s multiple endorsements of this company and the amount of taxpayer money at stake, I remain concerned about the possibility of inappropriate influence on the Army Corps’ contracting decision.”

The award was the second-largest contract in the company’s history. Previously, Fisher built highways, sold heavy equipment and did excavation work. The company unsuccessfully sued the government in April when it was not awarded a similar contract.

Judge Allows South Carolina GOP To Cancel Primary For Trump

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

A judge on Wednesday upheld the South Carolina Republican Party’s decision not to hold a 2020 presidential primary, a move taken by several states in erecting hurdles for the long-shot candidates challenging Donald Trump.

In her order, Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman wrote the law “does not give Plaintiffs a legal right to a presidential preference primary, and the Court will not substitute its own judgment for that of the General Assembly or the SCGOP.”

Earlier this year, former South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis sued state Republicans, saying the party’s decision to skip a primary deprives him and others “of the ability to vote for the candidate of their choice in South Carolina’s famous (and particularly influential) ‘First in the South’ primary.”

South Carolina is among several states that have canceled Republican primaries and caucuses next year, an effort that helps Trump consolidate his support as Democrats work to winnow their large candidate field. The move, taken September in South Carolina by the state party’s executive committee, is not unusual for the party of the White House incumbent seeking reelection.

Challengers have emerged to Trump, including former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh. Mark Sanford, a former congressman and governor from South Carolina, entered the race but left after two months.

In years past, both Republicans and Democrats have cut state nominating contests when an incumbent president from their party sought a second term. In 1984, South Carolina GOP leaders opted to call off their primary as President Ronald Reagan sought reelection. In 2004, the GOP again canceled the state’s primary, with leaders deciding instead to endorse President George W. Bush’s reelection.

The South Carolina Democratic Party didn’t hold presidential primaries in 1996 or in 2012, when Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were their incumbents.

Trump Keeps Losing In Court — Over Taxes, Obstruction, And His Kingly Pretensions

Published with permission from American Independent

Donald Trump knows he has fierce Democratic adversaries in Congress. But there is also ample push-back from the Judiciary branch, where black-robed judges who sit in courtrooms just blocks from the Capitol and in New York City have repudiated his view of executive power.

Federal judges in the last two months have accused Trump administration lawyers of “openly stonewalling” and of regarding presidents as kings while also deriding Justice Department legal positions as “extraordinary,” “exactly backwards” and just plain “wrong.”

Taken together, the court rulings eviscerate the administration’s muscular view of executive power just as the impeachment inquiry against Trump accelerates. And they embolden Democrats in their pursuit of investigations into Trump’s government and finances.

“We’re not accustomed to seeing presidents suffer as many defeats in the courts as this president,” said William Howell, a University of Chicago political scientist.

The administration at least temporarily lost its bid to shield former White House counsel Don McGahn from being questioned by Congress. It argued unsuccessfully to withhold secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. And lawyers for the president have tried to keep the president’s financial records away from Congress. In each instances, judges have overruled them.

To be sure, some of the most stinging losses have come from Democratic-appointed judges, and all could be overturned on appeal — well after the impeachment inquiry has ended, or after congressional Democrats have lost their appetite for the desired testimony or records. The Supreme Court, for instance, has already put on hold a lower court ruling directing Trump to produce his financial records in a case that falls outside the impeachment inquiry.

And another test that awaits — a former White House official’s challenge of a congressional subpoena — may yet be decided in the administration’s favor by a judge nominated by Republican President George W. Bush.

For the moment, though, the defeats undercut White House arguments that executive branch witnesses and documents are outside the reach of congressional inquiry and make it unlikely that the administration’s expansive vision of presidential powers will form lasting legal precedent.

Other administrations have tangled with Congress, of course, and been forced to provide documents. But the rapid succession of losses in such high-profile cases has been startling, along with the colorful, sometimes cutting, language of the judges who have ruled against Trump.

When the administration argued that McGahn was “absolutely immune” from having to testify, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote that no such principle existed and dismissed as “neither precedential nor persuasive” Justice Department legal opinions the government had cited.

“Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote. “This means they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”

She said the administration’s assertion of absolute testimonial immunity for senior White House aides had “no foundation in law” and had distorted “established separation-of-powers principles beyond all recognition.”

In October, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell told a Justice Department lawyer that though she was a well-respected attorney, her arguments in a case over whether the department had to produce grand jury testimony from Mueller’s investigation were “extraordinary” — and not in a good way.

When the lawyer asserted that a judge in 1974 shouldn’t have authorized the release similar grand jury material from the Watergate investigation involving President Richard Nixon, Howell shot back, “Wow. OK. As I said, the department is taking an extraordinary position in this case.”

Weeks later, she ordered the administration to give the House transcripts of grand jury testimony. That order has been appealed, delaying the immediate disclosure of records. A federal appeals court heard arguments last month.

A New York judge in a case over whether Trump could be forced to hand over tax returns expressed similar exasperation when he asked a lawyer for Trump if he was really suggesting that the president could not be investigated while in office even if he shot someone in Manhattan.

“That is correct. That is correct. Yes,” was the answer from attorney William Consovoy.

In directing that Congress could see Trump’s banking records, a federal appeals panel in New York ruled just this week that the public interest in the information outweighed “the risk of a Chief Executive’s distraction arising from disclosure of document reflecting his private financial transactions.”

Part of what’s unusual about the spate of defeats is that administrations have tended to eventually resolve disputes through compromise, but that has not been this White House’s style, said Joshua Blackman, a South Texas College of law professor.

Former Bush White House counsel Harriet Miers initially resisted a court order directing her to testify about the firing of U.S. attorneys, but ultimately did so under the Obama administration under an agreement reached with Congress.

“Traditionally, when you have these sorts of disputes between the executive branch and Congress, there’s often litigation but the parties work out settlements,” Blackman said. “That is, a Cabinet official will testify but on a limited scope of topics. The Congress and the president reach some sort of deal.”

“Here,” he added, “the position from the outset is we’re not going to honor any of these subpoenas at all. So as a result, it’s all gone to the courts.”

Still, other than the disappointment of losing and the damning rhetoric from judges, it is not yet apparent what practical impact the rulings will have, said Blackman, who believes the administration’s goal all along has been to drag out the requests to the point when the information might no longer be needed.

The Supreme Court’s action, for instance, probably means Democrats will not have the records before an expected vote on impeachment by year’s end. And a case on whether McGahn must appear before the House Judiciary Committee to discuss the Mueller report is headed for appeals court arguments next month.

Even if, for instance, McGahn is ultimately forced to testify, the president could still try to assert executive privilege to prevent him answering certain sensitive questions.

“We’re still a long way,” Blackman said, “from Don McGahn saying anything of use.”

Court Orders Deutsche Bank To Disclose Trump Records To Congress

A federal appeals court in New York on Tuesday upheld the legality of congressional subpoenas seeking Donald Trump’s banking records but said sensitive personal information should be protected.

The decision from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came after the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees asked Deutsche Bank and Capital One to turn over records related to Trump’s business ventures as they investigate “foreign influence in the U.S. political process.”

Trump and three of his children challenged the subpoenas.

A judge had ruled that the subpoenas were legitimate.

The Second Circuit agreed, though it said the lower court should implement a procedure protecting sensitive personal information. It also gave litigants a limited chance to object to disclosure of certain documents.

The decision comes after federal courts have ruled that Trump’s accounting firm must turn over records to congressional investigators. Trump has ordered his accounting firm and banks he’s gotten loans from not to comply with congressional subpoenas.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.