The US Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a prosecutor’s demand for President Donald 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 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 high-stakes dispute tests the balance of power between the White House and Congress, as well as Trump’s claim that he can’t be investigated while he holds office.
It’s unclear how much of the material would become public, since some records would go to a confidential grand-jury investigation in New York and the rest, sought by committees of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, could contain highly sensitive information not just about Trump, but also about other members of his family and businesses.
The case was argued by telephone in May because of the coronavirus pandemic. A dispute over whether a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma remains American Indian land, also argued in May, is the only other outstanding case.
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.
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.
There are two Trump appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, on the court.
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 during the 2016 presidential race.