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Trump Gets High Court Review on Financial Records Subpoenas

Greg Stohr

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider President Donald Trump’s bid to keep his financial and tax records secret, setting up a major constitutional and political showdown in the middle of next year’s election campaign.

The justices said Friday they will hear three appeals from Trump that challenge subpoenas from Congress and a New York grand jury and raise sweeping questions about investigations into alleged misconduct by the president. Trump is asking the court to sharply limit Congress’s powers and give the president immunity from state criminal probes while in office.

The court said it will hear arguments during the two-week sitting that starts March 23. A ruling is likely by the end of June.

The cases will test the court at a politically fraught time, with Chief Justice John Roberts already preparing to preside over a likely impeachment trial of Trump next month in the Senate. The disputes could rival the 1974 Richard Nixon tapes case for their constitutional significance.

“These cases raise significant constitutional issues,” Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement. “We look forward to presenting our written and oral arguments.”

Trump is counting on the court’s conservative majority to insulate him from a criminal investigation stemming from hush payments to two women who claimed they had sex with him before he took office. Trump is also trying to ensure that three committees in the Democratic-controlled House don’t get financial documents they could then release to the public.

The justices acted with unusual speed, agreeing to take up the cases less than a month after Trump made his first filing at the nation’s highest court.

The subpoenas seek years of Trump’s personal records, as well as those of the Trump Organization and his other businesses. They are directed to Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, and his banks, Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp. The companies aren’t contesting the subpoenas and have said they will comply with their legal obligations.

Trump has refused to release his tax returns to the public, something every president since Jimmy Carter had done. In the New York case, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is explicitly asking for those filings, along with other financial records.

It’s less clear in the two House cases whether Trump’s personal tax returns would have to be turned over. The subpoena to Mazars doesn’t explicitly ask for the returns, while Deutsche Bank has said it doesn’t have them.

Trump, being represented by his private lawyers, contends that lawmakers are improperly trying to engage in law enforcement, something he says is the exclusive domain of the government’s executive branch.

“Usurpation of the executive’s law-enforcement prerogative is bad enough,” he argued in one appeal. “But the issue is even more perilous when the subpoena targets the president.”

The three House committees -- Oversight, Financial Services and Intelligence -- say they are pursuing legislative goals, including updating ethics laws and trying to guard against foreign influence in the 2020 election.

“There is a long history of congressional subpoenas for testimony and documents relating to the president, including subpoenas to third parties,” the House said. “To legislate effectively, Congress often needs to probe past wrongdoing or noncompliance.”

The grand jury case centers on the power of state prosecutors. Trump, who famously said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing political support, is now asking the court to say the president can’t be investigated for such a crime, or any other, while in office.

“The practical threat that state criminal process poses to a president cannot be overstated,” Trump argued. “Unleashing all 50 states and thousands of local governments to conduct their own broad-ranging criminal investigations of a sitting president is unimaginable.”

Hush Money

Vance is investigating whether Trump’s business falsified records to disguise the hush payments. He said Trump’s contentions have so little merit the court should have rejected the appeal without a hearing.

Trump’s “assertion of absolute presidential immunity is foreclosed by this court’s precedent, which conclusively establishes that no person in this country is so high that he is above the law,” Vance argued.

Vance points to the 1974 Nixon ruling, which said the president had to turn over Oval Office tape recordings for use in the criminal trial of six top aides stemming from the Watergate break-in. The prosecutor also relies on the 1997 ruling that rejected President Bill Clinton’s claim of a broad right to postpone a sexual harassment trial in federal court.The Justice Department is backing Trump and his personal lawyers, though the department isn’t going as far in its legal arguments. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco told the Supreme Court that Vance must make a “heightened showing of need” to get the tax returns.

The cases are Trump v. Vance, 19-635; Trump v. Mazars, 19-715; and Trump v. Deutsche Bank, 19-760.

(Updates with Trump lawyer’s statement in fifth paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, Steve Geimann

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