July 10, 2020
In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court on July 9 rejected President Donald Trump’s bid to block the Manhattan District Attorney from enforcing a subpoena seeking years of his financial and tax records from his accountants—and potentially opening the president up to widespread scrutiny.
The case was one of two before the high court—brought separately by New York County and the U.S. Congress—in which the president challenged subpoenas that weren’t sent to him, but instead to his accountants and bankers, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Trump has been highly protective of his financial records. He is the only major-party presidential candidate in recent elections not to release his tax returns to the public.
Overall, the justices said that the New York prosecutor was entitled to access the president’s personal financial information—but dropkicked the decision on whether several committees of Congress should receive the records to a lower court.
Among the subpoenas under scrutiny:
- The House Oversight Committee, investigating ethics issues in the executive branch, issued a subpoena to the accounting, tax, and auditing firm, Mazars USA for eight years of financial records related to the president, his real-estate company, his foundation, and other entities belonging to the president.
- Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. also issued a subpoena to the accounting firm, seeking Trump financial documents and tax records as part of a criminal investigation into hush-money payments to women who claim to have had affairs with Mr. Trump.
- A pair of other House committees—the Financial Services and Intelligence committees—issued subpoenas seeking a broad range of Trump records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One Financial.
Deutsche Bank since 1998 has led or participated in loans of at least $2.5 billion to companies affiliated with Trump, the Journal noted.
The Intelligence Committee said it needed the information as part of its probe of foreign influence in the U.S. political process, including whether foreigners have financial leverage over the Trump family and its enterprises. The Financial Services Committee is investigating bank-lending practices, including to Mr. Trump and his businesses.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) immediately commended the ruling in the consolidated cases of Trump v. Mazars and Trump v. Deutsche Bank., saying, “A careful reading of the Supreme Court rulings related to the president’s financial records is not good news for President Trump.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.”
In turn, the Journal said, Trump argued that House committees infringed on his prerogatives as chief executive, and that the U.S. Constitution prohibits state prosecutors from subpoenaing records of a sitting president.
However, SCOTUS already had gone on-record about such prerogatives: In 1974, the Supreme Court required President Nixon to obey a subpoena for tapes and other records related to the Watergate investigation. In 1997, the court likewise ordered President Clinton to comply with a private lawsuit brought against him over sexual harassment allegations.
House investigators and state prosecutors argued that the burdens on Trump were minor compared to those cases, as the subpoenas were directed to third parties and the president need do nothing in response.
Lower courts upheld the subpoenas for the Trump records, but they have been blocked during the Supreme Court appeal.
Research contact: @WSJ