In a move that left President Donald Trump fuming on Twitter on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled against him in two cases over whether his personal financial records should be turned over to investigators — a New York prosecutor's office, in one case, and Congress' Democratic majority in another.
But the decisions, handed down on Thursday, do not mean Trump's finances will be made public any time soon.
If and when the records are obtained — either by congress committee or a New York grand jury — it would be for the purpose of investigation, not officially for public consumption (though the court did not ignore the possibility of a leak).
Rather, taking a broad view of the president's obligations under the law, the Supreme Court dismissed Trump's range of arguments about why his personal records shouldn't be subpoenaed by various committees in the House of Representatives or by New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
"In our judicial system, 'the public has a right to every man’s evidence.' Since the earliest days of the Republic, 'every man' has included the President of the United States," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in one of the two majority opinions on Trump's records.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh concurred: "In our system of government, as this court has often stated, no one is above the law. That principle applies, of course, to a president."
"Two hundred years ago, a great jurist of our Court established that no citizen, not even the President, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding," Roberts wrote. "We reaffirm that principle today."
In the other case, he wrote: "Legislative inquiries might involve the President in appropriate cases; as noted, Congress’s responsibilities extend to 'every affair of government.' "
Both cases were decided by a seven-to-two vote, with both Trump-appointed justices — including Kavanaugh — in the majority. Roberts delivered the opinions. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.
The president is exceedingly tight-lipped about the particulars of his business dealings, which are anchored around the family's privately held Trump Organization. The Trumps have argued that scrutiny about their money amounts to rumor-mongering and organized harassment — "POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!" as the president put it in a Thursday tweet.
A chorus of critics, however, say that Trump has hidden his finances (including his tax returns) like no other modern president, making it impossible to know what behind-closed-door deals he's made and to whom he may be secretly indebted, including foreign businesses.
In the New York case, the Supreme Court paved the way for prosecutors to obtain the requested financial documents via a grand jury subpoena there, as part of a probe into hush-money payments and other matters.
A lower court ruling in the dispute was affirmed and the case was remanded in order to proceed, with the possibility Trump could make another objection before the subpoena is enforced. (His lawyers soon said they would do just that.)
In the case of the House subpoenas, the court sent the matter back to the lower courts with clearer guidance on how to rule, agreeing that while Congress did have some authority here it should be subject to certain scrutinies and limitations given the separation of powers between the presidency and legislature.
The subpoenas in both cases were to either Deutsche Bank, where Trump does business, or his accounting firm, Mazars USA.
Those companies said they would have complied until the president intervened, according to NPR.
“A careful reading of the Supreme Court rulings related to the President’s financial records is not good news for President Trump," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, adding: “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."
In a separate statement, the New York County district attorney said, according to The New York Times: "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. 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 president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, said the fight continues.
“We are pleased that in the decisions issued today, the Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the president’s tax records,” he said in a statement, according to the Times. “We will now proceed to raise additional constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts.”
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