Court rejects Trump’s broad claims, but records stay private

  • President Donald Trump listens during a "National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America's Schools," event in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

  • A man on a bicycle and members of the media wait Thursday outside the Supreme Court for news of the court’s rulings. AP PHOTO

  • Bill Christeson holds up a sign that reads "Follow the Money" outside the Supreme Court, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Washington. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Manhattan district attorney can obtain Trump tax returns while not allowing Congress to get Trump tax and financial records, for now, returning the case to lower courts. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik

Associated Press
Published: 7/9/2020 5:19:26 PM

WASHINGTON — Rejecting President Donald Trump’s complaints that he’s being harassed, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of a New York prosecutor’s demands for the billionaire president’s tax records. But in good political news for Trump, his taxes and other financial records almost certainly will be kept out of the public eye at least until after the November election.

In a separate case, the justices kept a hold on banking and other documents about Trump, family members and his businesses that Congress has been seeking for more than a year. The court said that while Congress has significant power to demand the president’s personal information, it is not limitless.

The court turned away the broadest arguments by Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department that the president is immune from investigation while he holds office or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the tax records. But it is unclear when a lower court judge might order the Manhattan district attorney’s subpoena to be enforced.

Trump, the only president in modern times who has refused to make his tax returns public, didn’t immediately regard the outcome as a victory even though it is likely to prevent his opponents in Congress from obtaining potentially embarrassing personal and business records ahead of Election Day.

The documents have the potential to reveal details on everything from possible misdeeds to the true nature of the president’s vaunted wealth – not to mention uncomfortable disclosures about how he’s spent his money and how much he’s given to charity.

The increasing likelihood that a grand jury will eventually get to examine his personal documents drove the president into a public rage. He lashed out on Twitter, saying “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!”

The rejection of Trump’s claims of presidential immunity marked the latest instance where Trump’s broad assertion of executive power has been rejected.

Trump’s two high court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the majority in both cases along with Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal justices. Roberts wrote both opinions.

“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.

But Roberts also wrote that Trump was asking for too much. “The standards proposed by the President and the Solicitor General—if applied outside the context of privileged information—would risk seriously impeding Congress in carrying out its responsibilities,” the chief justice wrote.

The ruling returns the congressional case to lower courts, with no clear prospect for when it might ultimately be resolved.

Promising to keep pressing the case in the lower courts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday’s decision “is not good news for President Trump.”

“The Court has reaffirmed the Congress’s authority to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people,” Pelosi said in a statement.

The tax returns case also is headed back to a lower court. Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm, holds the tax returns and has indicated it would comply with a court order. Because the grand jury process is confidential, Trump’s taxes normally would not be made public.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said his investigation, on hold while the court fight played out, will now resume.

“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 said.

Even with his broadest arguments rejected, Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer, said he was pleased that the “Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the President’s financial records. We will now proceed to raise additional constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts.”

The case was argued by telephone in May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The fight over the congressional subpoenas has significant implications regarding a president’s power to refuse a formal request from Congress. In a separate fight at the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., over a congressional demand for the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn, the administration is making broad arguments that the president’s close advisers are “absolutely immune” from having to appear.


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