The Supreme Court on Thursday kept a hold on President Donald Trump’s financial records that Congress has been seeking for more than a year. The ruling returns the case to lower courts, with no clear prospect for when the case might ultimately be resolved.
The 7-2 outcome is at least a short-term victory for Trump, who has strenuously sought to keep his financial records private.
"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," Roberts wrote in the congressional case.
The decision came after the court upheld a New York prosecutor’s demand for Trump’s tax returns as part of a criminal investigation that includes hush-money payments to women who claim they had affairs with Trump.
"The president is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need," Roberts wrote for the court in the decision on the New York grand jury case.
The court ruled 7-2 in a case in which it heard arguments by telephone in May because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The records are held by Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, which has said it would comply with a court order.
It probably will be at least several weeks before the court issues a formal judgment that would trigger the turnover of the records.
The court rejected arguments by Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department that the president is immune to investigation while he holds office or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the records.
Trump’s two high court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the majority in both cases, while Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented in both.
Trump quickly responded on Twitter:
The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue. 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!"
In a second tweet, Trump said: "Courts in the past have given “broad deference”. BUT NOT ME!"
In two earlier cases over presidential power, the Supreme Court acted unanimously in requiring President Richard Nixon to turn over White House tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor and in allowing a sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton to go forward.
In those cases, three Nixon appointees and two Clinton appointees, respectively, voted against the president who chose them for the high court. A fourth Nixon appointee, William Rehnquist, sat out the tapes case because he had worked closely as a Justice Department official with some of the Watergate conspirators whose upcoming trial spurred the subpoena for the Oval Office recordings.
The subpoenas are not directed at Trump himself. Instead, House committees want records from Deutsche Bank, Capital One and the Mazars USA accounting firm. Mazars also is the recipient of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s subpoena.
Appellate courts in Washington, D.C., and New York brushed aside the president’s arguments in decisions that focused on the fact that the subpoenas were addressed to third parties asking for records of Trump’s business and financial dealings as a private citizen, not as president.
Two congressional committees subpoenaed the bank documents as part of their investigations into Trump and his businesses. Deutsche Bank has been one of the few banks willing to lend to Trump after a series of corporate bankruptcies and defaults starting in the early 1990s.
Vance and the House Oversight and Reform Committee sought records from Mazars concerning Trump and his businesses based on payments that Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to keep two women from airing their claims of decade-old extramarital affairs with Trump.
This report is compiled with material from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News.
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