Supreme Court Accepts Cases Dealing With Subpoenas For Trump Financial Records

Late last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a trio of cases healing with subpoenas for the President's financial records.

Late last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals in a series of cases dealing with the issue of requests by Congress and by the Manhattan District Attorney to access President Trump’s financial records and his income tax records, a decision that should be decided just as the campaign for President is starting:

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether President Trump may shield disclosure of his financial information from congressional committees and a New York prosecutor, raising the prospect of a landmark election-year ruling on a president’s immunity from investigation while he is in office.

Trump asked the court to accept the cases, and they will be heard in March, with a ruling before the court’s session ends in late June. It means that whatever the outcome of Trump’s separate impeachment proceedings, the controversies over investigations into Trump’s conduct will continue into the heart of the presidential election campaign.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and three Democratic-led congressional committees have won lower-court decisions granting them access to a broad range of Trump’s financial records relating to him personally, his family and his businesses. The court on Friday said it would consider all three cases.

Unlike other modern presidents and presidential candidates, Trump has not released his tax returns. He and his personal lawyers have mounted a vigorous effort to keep that information private and defeat attempts to obtain the records from financial institutions and his accounting firm.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court granted review of the President’s three pending cases,” said Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, in a statement released Friday. “These cases raise significant constitutional issues.”

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled disappointment that the high court’s decision to take the cases would mean further delay for the Democrats’ investigation into the president’s finances, but she said her caucus remains confident that the court will “uphold the Constitution, the rulings of the lower courts and ensure that Congressional oversight can proceed.”

“As the Courts have made clear,” Pelosi said, “there are no special privileges for information unrelated to the President’s official duties, but squarely related to Congress’s need for legislation and oversight.”

(…)

One case involves Vance’s attempt to enforce a grand jury subpoena issued to the president’s accountants for eight years of Trump’s tax records.

A federal investigation of the president is one thing, Trump’s lawyers told the court, but “politically motivated subpoenas like this one are a perfect illustration of why a sitting president should be categorically immune from state criminal process.”

They added: “State and local prosecutors have massive incentives to target [the president] with investigations and subpoenas to advance their careers, enhance their re-election prospects or make a political statement.”

A district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled against Trump, saying Vance’s subpoena was proper and the president’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, must comply.

(…)

The House Oversight and Reform Committee won access to Trump’s financial records in a separate case. The committee said it is looking into possible conflicts of interest and irregularities in the president’s financial disclosure reports, and whether additional legislation is needed.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit voted 2 to 1 that the subpoena followed legal precedents.

Trump’s lawyers objected. Under the lower court’s decision, “any committee of Congress can subpoena any personal information from the president; all the committee needs to say is that it’s considering legislation that would force Presidents to disclose that same information,” wrote Consovoy. “Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government.”

(…)

A third case also comes from the 2nd Circuit, where judges upheld Congress’s broad investigative authority, and ordered Deutsche Bank and Capital One to comply with subpoenas for the president’s financial information from two House committees, Intelligence and Financial Services.

The committees are seeking more than 10 years of financial records on Trump, his three oldest children — Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump — and the president’s businesses.

The committees say they need the records as part of broad investigations into Russian money laundering and potential foreign influence involving Trump.

Trump’s attorneys have argued the committees’ moves are simply to harass the president and would serve no legislative purpose. The subpoenas could yield every debit card transaction and check written by Trump, his children and even his grandchildren, they said.

The most notable thing about all of these cases, of course, is the fact that the President has lost every court proceeding to date to block either Congress or prosecutors from gaining access to his personal and business tax records. Given the state of the law, this is hardly surprising. The Supreme Court has never to my knowledge ruled on the question of whether or not Congress can subpoena such documents as part of its general oversight and investigation duties, or whether state or local prosecutors can subpoena such records. It has, however, ruled on the issue of whether or not the President is generally immune from having to comply with subpoenas.

Those decisions, of course, came in United States v. Nixon and Clinton v. Jones. The Nixon case, of course, dealt with a subpoena from Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski and his request for tapes of specific Oval Office recordings relevant to their investigation. In that case, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that Nixon must turn over the tapes notwithstanding claims of Executive Privilege. In the Clinton case, the Court ruled 8-1 that the President did not have immunity to civil suits and their related subpoenas while in office. Given these precedents, it’s difficult to argue that a sitting President should be immune from complying with duly-issued subpoenas from Congress in connection with its oversight responsibilities and from s prosecutor conducting a legitimate criminal investigation.

The fact that the Court accepted this case, of course, means that the Administration will be able to keep the documents secret for another six months at least. This is because oral argument in the cases won’t be held until March, and we likely won’t get a decision until the end of the term in June. In the meantime you can access the documents in the three cases at issue — Trump v. VanceTrump v. Mazars USA, LLPTrump v. Deutsche Bank AG — at their respective SCOTUSBlog Information pages.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, Supreme Court, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    This is a very important moment. Has Trump managed to stack the court well enough to pave the way to a presidential dictatorship? Is Roberts a genuine conservative or a Trumpie?

  2. Joe says:

    The cynic in me says there is no split among circuits or divergence of authority on the outcome of these cases, so what’s the point of the Supreme Court ruling on them other than to reach a different decision, while the optimist in me says this is a chance for the Supreme Court to assert some semblance of the rule of law in the wake looming Senate trial debacle.

  3. CSK says:

    Whatever it is Trump is so frantic to keep hidden, it must be very big and very bad. At the least, very embarrassing to him.

  4. EddieInCA says:

    By taking the case, the Supremes have given Trump a gift. They won’t hear arguments until March, and not rule until June. Given that there has been no split in decisions, I don’t understand why the Supremes even took the case. On the actual law, it seems to me that there is no legal arguments the President has that will stand up. The statutes are very clear.

    Can any of the actual lawyers in the group give a legitimate LEGAL rationale for Trump possibly winning this case?

    10
  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Of course the conservatives on the Supremes are playing a much longer game than most conservative pols. A decision that immunizes Tiny from Congressional/prosecutional oversight will also free a future Dem president from the same. Add to that Roberts’ concern for the courts image. It will be much more difficult for the Supremes to rule in favor of Tiny and turn around in a few years rule against a Dem.

    The timing should be awful for Tiny, a ruling in June and the information released in dribs and drabs through the campaign season.

  6. drj says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    It will be much more difficult for the Supremes to rule in favor of Tiny and turn around in a few years rule against a Dem.

    Bless your heart.

  7. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Sleeping Dog: That’s what I was thinking – that the timing that results will not break well for Trump. Maybe he can think of another way to drag his feet, or maybe he just defies the court order. It’s not the first subpoena he’s ignored.

  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This is way bigger than the taxes. We know he’s crooked. We know he has cheated. And we know he pays no taxes.
    What we do not know is if we have a legitimate Supreme Court, or not.
    We know the Senate is no longer a functioning part of the Government.
    I guess we will find out, in June, if the Supreme Court is still functioning or not.

  9. drj says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    That’s what I was thinking – that the timing that results will not break well for Trump.

    All lower-court rulings went against Trump and the legal case is about as clear as these things get.

    So why should the Supremes get involved if not to go to bat for Trump?

    And if that is their motivation, the timing will obviously not be awful for Trump.

  10. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Is Roberts a genuine conservative or a Trumpie?

    The one upside of SCOTUS appointments for life is that justices don’t need to worry about annoying the base and getting primaried…

  11. steve says:

    Is there any serious doubt about the outcome? What are you people drinking? The court will find in favor of Trump. Roberts will occasionally remember that he is a judge and supposed to place the law first. Gorsuch will occasionally remember that he is a libertarian and is supposed to support liberty, not the GOP. However, this has major risk for the GOP. They will all pull together and find a way to justify keeping Trump’s records secret.

    Steve

  12. drj says:

    @steve:

    Roberts will occasionally remember that he is a judge and supposed to place the law first.

    No even that. But he will be somewhat subtle about it and take his time.

    Like when he killed the Voting Rights Act in two easy steps:

    In Shelby County, Roberts essentially pulled a bait-and-switch. While Roberts threw out Section 4 — which required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get approval from the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws — he emphasized that it was still possible to combat discrimination by suing under Section 2, which forbade racial discrimination in voting. But in 2018, Roberts joined a 5-4 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito that made proving discrimination under Section 2 effectively impossible.

    That’s how you do it: leave unwelcome laws on the books, but make enforcement virtually impossible – in particular when this favors Team GOP.

  13. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I’ve lost all faith in the Supreme Court since they decided that gerrymandering was “incompatible with basic democratic principles” but there was nothing they can do about it except say “tsk-tsk”. Roberts in particular seems to want to keep the Supreme Court as far from what he sees as controversial decisions as possible, so he makes cowardly ones instead. What that means in this case…who knows?

  14. the Q says:

    The Dems should mimic Trump’s corruption stance on the Ukraine and apply it directly to him..

    “President Trump says he donates his presidential salary to charity. We need his tax returns to verify this charitable deduction otherwise he may very well be spending his salary paying off hookers or russian blackmailers. Which is it Mr. President?”

    Oh what I would give if the Dems would start treating this idiot like the corpulent bully he is….

    Biden’s opening statement in a debate “For a year now, I’ve had to endure this fat, flatulent, bald big mouth who cheated on his pregnant wife, then lied about paying those hookers hush money. To the First Lady, was his cheating on you an example of Be Best? How do we know this lying psychopath doesn’t have his Doctor covering up his syphilis? And I would just like to remind all the ladies in the audience to cover up their pu ssys because the Big Grabber Mr. Mushroom is in the house.

    Best way to shut up a wingnut troll? “hey, do you mind if Trump grab’s your wife’s pu ssy? Actually, you don’t have to worry, he only does that to “hot” women.”

  15. Michael Cain says:

    @drj:

    So why should the Supremes get involved if not to go to bat for Trump?

    Only takes four to grant cert. Then push the decision off to the next term, post election. At least a chance that way that all of the cases become moot: the Congressional subpoenas expire and are unlikely to be reissued, the states are investigating a private citizen not a sitting president.

  16. R.Dave says:

    @EddieInCA: Can any of the actual lawyers in the group give a legitimate LEGAL rationale for Trump possibly winning this case?

    This is waaay outside my knowledge set, but my prediction is that Trump will win on the two Congressional subpoenas and lose on the NY State subpoena. For the Congressional subpoenas, I think the Court will narrowly hold that these particular subpoenas are invalid because they were not issued for a valid legislative purpose (i.e., they weren’t part of an impeachment proceeding or a sufficiently specific investigation and therefore amount to a politically motivated fishing expedition). For the NYS subpoena, I think they’ll hold that President’s are not immune from State investigation/prosecution and the subpoena is therefore valid.

  17. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    Whatever it is Trump is so frantic to keep hidden, it must be very big and very bad. At the least, very embarrassing to him.

    I’d put all my money, if I were betting, on the last option. And the most likely fact Dennison’s hiding, is he doesn’t have as much money as he claims.

    He has been audited, after all. If there were any major financial crime, especially evasion, that would be known by now.

  18. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    I think that’s probably it, too. He’d rather be perceived as a crook than as some loser punk with only a couple of million to his name. On the other hand, there could be something in the financial records, independent of the tax returns, that’s, ah, fishy. Look how he got nailed on Trump “University” and the Trump Foundation.

  19. Barry says:

    @Sleeping Dog: “Of course the conservatives on the Supremes are playing a much longer game than most conservative pols. A decision that immunizes Tiny from Congressional/prosecutional oversight will also free a future Dem president from the same. Add to that Roberts’ concern for the courts image. It will be much more difficult for the Supremes to rule in favor of Tiny and turn around in a few years rule against a Dem. ”

    IMHO, they are taking the case to delay, assuming that delay helps Trump. Throw in this, that and the other thing, and the returns will not be available until too late to do anything.

    This wouldn’t leave a precedent usable by any Democratic President.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    IMHO, they are taking the case to delay, assuming that delay helps Trump. Throw in this, that and the other thing, and the returns will not be available until too late to do anything.

    Really? When the decision comes out in June, and if the ruling is against Trump, that won’t leave enough time for all the juicy details to come out just before the election?

    This wouldn’t leave a precedent usable by any Democratic President.

    That’s certainly true, just look at Bush v. Gore…

  21. SKI says:

    @DrDaveT: But they do have to attend cocktail parties and hunting trips and other events that are part of wingnut welfare…

  22. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:

    He has been audited, after all. If there were any major financial crime, especially evasion, that would be known by now.

    I have never thought that there would be any more tax evasion than anyone else who does large real estate deals practices. What I’ve always thought is that if you could turn a team of forensic accountants loose on the books, the family has been laundering money for the Russian mob for decades. This is like watching them roll up a NYC/Northern NJ crime family in the old days. Tax returns are a starting point, and eventually you get to the good stuff.

    A friend who was in a position to know 30 or so years ago tells me that everyone who does large real estate projects in NYC/Northern NJ is guilty of a certain amount of money laundering. He says there’s simply too much dirty money sloshing around looking for a place to be invested to avoid all of it.

  23. Michael Cain says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Really? When the decision comes out in June, and if the ruling is against Trump, that won’t leave enough time for all the juicy details to come out just before the election?

    I agree with Barry (see comment above). I think the important thing is there is no rule that says SCOTUS has to decide the case this term. If they wait until after the election, they may weasel out of having to look like they’re choosing a side, something that would appeal to Roberts a lot.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    I think the important thing is there is no rule that says SCOTUS has to decide the case this term.

    I wonder how often they do that…

  25. gVOR08 says:

    The timing might be bad for Trump, but the timing is moot if they find for Trump. Any privilege they grant Trump might also apply to a future Dem prez, but if they declare Trump is effectively immune to oversight and in fact above the law there may well never be another Dem president.

    Apparently four Justices want to rule on these cases, despite clear and consistent lower court rulings. That seems to mean it will come down to Roberts and his fealty to law and precedent and his concern for public perception of the Court. Pretty thin reeds on which to hang the future of the rule of law in this country.

    We’re hosed.

  26. An Interested Party says:

    Any privilege they grant Trump might also apply to a future Dem prez, but if they declare Trump is effectively immune to oversight and in fact above the law there may well never be another Dem president.

    There are reasons why this country staged its first revolution at its founding…a similar scenario could well lead to another revolution…