Court Battles

Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear appeals from President Trump in three cases involving efforts to gain access to his financial records, setting up a landmark separation of powers showdown.

The justices will hear arguments in March in cases that pit Trump against Democratic-led House committees, as well as a Manhattan district attorney. A blockbuster ruling on the extent of congressional oversight authority and presidential power is expected before July, just months ahead of Election Day.

The Supreme Court consolidated three cases in which Trump appealed to shield his financial records from disclosure after losses in lower courts.

Two cases involve financial records subpoenas from Democratic lawmakers. In one, the House Oversight and Reform Committee subpoenaed Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, for years of Trump’s personal and corporate financial records. In another, the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and Capital One for a broad range of financial documents related to President Trump and his businesses.

A third case involves a subpoena from Manhattan prosecutors against Mazars USA for Trump’s personal and corporate financial records, including tax returns, from 2011 to 2018.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court granted review of the President’s three pending cases,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said in a statement. “These cases raise significant constitutional issues. We look forward to presenting our written and oral arguments.”

The first of the three cases to reach the justices involved efforts by Cyrus Vance Jr., the Democratic district attorney for Manhattan, to force Trump’s accountants to hand over eight years of tax returns and other documents.

Vance’s office is investigating payments allegedly made to silence two women who allege they had affairs with Trump. But Trump’s lawyers argued that the president has blanket immunity from a criminal investigation or prosecution while in office.

In that case, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit said Manhattan prosecutors could obtain Trump’s financial records as part of a grand jury investigation, over Trump’s claims of presidential immunity.

In a dramatic escalation of his fight to keep his financial records private, Trump asked the Supreme Court on Nov. 14 to reverse the court order in favor of Vance.

In their petition to the Supreme Court, Trump’s personal lawyers called the records request “politically motivated,” and said the subpoena should not be allowed to pierce the immunity the Constitution gives to the president.

“That the Constitution would empower thousands of state and local prosecutors to embroil the president in criminal proceedings is unimaginable,” the petition reads. “Indeed, politically motivated subpoenas like this one are a perfect illustration of why a sitting president should be categorically immune from state criminal process.” Vance’s office declined to comment on Friday to The Hill.

A day after Trump asked the court to intervene in the Manhattan district attorney case, Trump also filed an emergency request to the Supreme Court asking the justices to block a subpoena from the Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee. 

In that case, Democrats say they need Trump’s financial records from his accountants to decide whether to update financial and government ethics and disclosure laws. But Trump’s lawyers have questioned those claims, saying that lawmakers lack a legitimate legislative reason for the records.

A divided three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit said the subpoena against Trump’s accountants was enforceable. The same court later voted 8-3 against rehearing the case, prompting Trump to file an emergency request that the Supreme Court stay, or suspend, that order, and later a formal appeal.

The third case to reach the high court involves subpoenas from the House Financial Services and Intelligence committees to Deutsche Bank and Capital One.

The committees’ subpoenas are part of a congressional probe into the president’s dealings with Deutsche Bank, which is reportedly being investigated for its role in a $200 billion money-laundering scheme involving Russia.

Last week, in a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered “prompt compliance” with the subpoenas, citing a “clear and substantial” public interest in permitting the committees to exercise their oversight authority.

Trump also filed a separate emergency request to the Supreme Court to block those subpoenas. In the emergency request, Trump’s lawyers told the Supreme Court that if the justices take up their eventual appeal, they would likely overrule the lower court.

“The Committees’ desire to use the President, his family, and his businesses as a case study is not a ‘legitimate legislative purpose,’” they wrote.

The heads of the congressional committees said they were looking forward to making their case before the justices.

“Both the District Courts and Circuit Courts found that Congress’ subpoenas to the President’s accountants and banks are valid and enforceable,” said House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) in a statement. “While we are disappointed that Congress will now have to wait several more months to get a final ruling, we look forward to presenting our case to the Supreme Court, and we are hopeful that the Court will agree with these well-reasoned decisions. 

“We remain committed to conducting our critical oversight and legislative functions under the Constitution,” they added.

Trump’s tax returns and financial records have been the center of scrutiny dating back to his campaign. He is the first president in decades to refuse to make any of his tax returns public, claiming that he is under audit. The IRS has said that does not prevent Trump from voluntarily disclosing those returns.

But Trump’s actions have sparked a number of attempts to secure those records. The president has scored some victories in his efforts to keep those records private.

The California Supreme Court in November struck down a state law that required candidates for some top offices, including the presidency, to disclose their tax returns to appear on the ballot.


Morgan Chalfant and Harper Neidig contributed.

This story was last updated at 7:05 p.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Carolyn Maloney Donald Trump Jay Sekulow Maxine Waters

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