Supreme Court Deals A Blow To Donald Trump’s Effort To Keep Tax Returns Secret, But Public Won’t See Them Anytime Soon

The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. J Scott Applewhite/AP/Shutterstock

The Supreme Court ruled that Manhattan prosecutors can pursue a subpoena to obtain Donald Trump’s financial records and tax returns, rejecting claims of presidential immunity. But the justices also decided that Congress is not privy to the information, at least for now.

The 7-2 rulings, issued on the final decision day of the court’s session, left it unlikely that the public will be able to see the records before the election.

In the New York case, Trump’s records were subpoenaed by a grand jury, which, if it ultimately obtains the documents, would have to keep the information secret. The justices also sent the case back to lower courts, where Trump’s legal team indicated that they would challenge the subpoena on other grounds.

Still, the ruling was a significant victory for New York’s district attorney, Cyrus Vance, who had sought the records as part of an investigation of the Trump Organization and payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who both claim that they had affairs with Trump. He has denied their allegations.

Chief Justice John Roberts, delivering the majority opinion, wrote that “the president is neither absolutely immune from criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need.” He was joined by the court’s liberal justices and two other conservatives, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Roberts wrote that Trump can still challenge the subpoena by citing “the same protections available to every other citizen. These include the right to challenge the subpoena on any grounds permitted by state law, which usually include bad faith and undue burden or breadth.” Roberts also wrote that the president “can challenge the subpoena as an attempt to influence the performance of his official duties, in violation of the Supremacy Clause.”

In the other decision, the court ruled that Congress could not obtain Trump’s financial records, at least for now, because of concerns over separation of powers. That means that lower courts will have to reconsider the ruling.

Mazars USA, the accounting firm that has the records, has said that it would comply with subpoenas.

Trump’s lawyers had argued that as long as he was president, he was shielded from the New York investigation.

“This is a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one — not even a president — is above the law,” Vance said in a statement. “Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume, guided as always by the grand jury’s solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead.”

The other case had to do with an even weightier question of whether Congress had the authority to obtain Trump’s records via subpoenas, as House Democrats conduct broader inquiries into the president’s finances and whether they pose conflicts of interest with foreign countries. Trump’s lawyers argued that the subpoenas served no legitimate legislative purpose.

Roberts, who authored the majority opinion, wrote, “When Congress seeks information ‘needed for intelligent legislative action,’ it ‘unquestionably’ remains ‘the duty of all citizens to cooperate.’ Congressional subpoenas for information from the President, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers. The courts below did not take adequate account of those concerns.”

Trump reacted to the rulings on Twitter.

“The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue,” he wrote. “This is all a political prosecution. I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!”

He added, “Courts in the past have given ‘broad deference’. BUT NOT ME!”

His lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said that they were pleased with the rulings, and said that they would seek to raise additional constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the court “has reaffirmed the Congress’s authority to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people, as it asks for further information from the Congress. Congress’s constitutional responsibility to uncover the truth continues, specifically related to the President’s Russia connection that he is hiding.”


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