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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Manhattan DA with Trump's Finances

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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Manhattan DA  with Trump's Finances

2020-07-09 16:01:46

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: John Roberts (Image source: Screenshot)


On Thursday the Supreme Court delivered split opinions concerning Donald Trump's financial records. While they ruled the Manhattan district attorney has a right to the records, they also ruled that House Democrats do not have a right to them.

The Manhattan case came down to a 7-2 ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the majority of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch. Dissenting were Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.  This opinion, as well as there other, is subject to review by lower courts.

Trump's claims that he is immune from state criminal subpoenas in the New York case were rejected. Yet, in the congressional case, the justices rejected earlier rulings that favored House Democrats. The high court also ordered the lower courts to consider the separation of powers more carefully.

Because of the split opinion, Trump's financial records and tax information are unlikely to be released to the public before the presidential election in November.

The House Oversight Committee sought the records in the investigations of Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who claimed the president both inflated and deflated his assets, whichever was favorable to him at the moment.

Additionally, the same panel is investigating the president's failure to disclose the hush money payment going out to adult film actress Stormy Daniels on his 2017 disclosure form. The Office of Government Ethics had said Trump should have listed the payment, which was owed to Cohen, who covered it for him, as a liability.

The separate subpoenas were issued by the financial services and intelligence committees to Deutsche Bank, requesting information on Trump and the members of his family, including his oldest three children.

The financial services committee issued a subpoena asking Capitol One for information on 15 of Trump's businesses. The panel is investigating potential foreign money laundering.

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) said his committee's probe sought to uncover whether "any foreign actor was sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates."

The Supreme Court's split opinions are the first time it has ruled on a matter that involved the president's business. Trump, while in 2016 agreeing to release his tax returns after an audit, never did, breaking with a longstanding tradition of candidates releasing their records.

"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," wrote Roberts in the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

 Vance's office is investigating the hush-money  payments to Daniels and Karen McDougal, another woman Trump allegedly had an affair with before the 2016 election. Both women claimed to have been paid to keep quiet about thee affairs before the election. Vance has not given any indication of an investigation or whether there are potential charges in the case.

In a lower court hearing in New York, an attorney for Trump said he would theoretically be immune from an investigation, even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. This was after Trump claimed during the 2016 campaign that he could "stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters."

Vance said in a statement that the Supreme Court's decision 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," continued the statement.

 Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said in a statement that "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 financial records."

He added, "We will now proceed to raise additional Constitutional and legal issues int he lower courts."

Trump didn't seem to look at the split opinions as favorably.  "How the Supreme Court gives a delay ruling that they would never have given for another president," he wrote in one of many on the subject.

"This is about PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT. We catch the other side SPYING on my campaign, the biggest political crime and scandal in U.S. history, and NOTHING HAPPENS. But despite this, I have done more than any president in history in first 3-1/2 years!" He continued, "Courts in the past have given broad deference, BUT NOT ME!"

Trump added, "This is all a political prosecution, I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this presidency or administration!"

Ian Duncan, spokesperson for Trump's longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, said in a statement that the firm was "reviewing the decision in its entirety to fully understand our obligations." He added, "As previously noted, Mazars USA fully intends to comply with its legal obligations."

Alito wrote in his dissent that the opinion of the majority "threatens to impair the functioning of the presidency and provides no real protection against the use of the subpoena power by the nation's 2,300+ local prosecutors."

Thomas agreed with the majority in his dissent that presidents do not have absolute immunity from criminal subpoenas. Still, he would have erased the lower court win for the New York district attorney and would have instructed the lower court to determine whether the subpoena should be blocked on the basis that it would interfere with the president's duties.

Along with financial records from Mazars, the congressional cases involved House-issued subpoenas for records from Capital One and Deutsche Bank. The committees needed the information so they could inform potential legislation and as part of ongoing investigations.

"This case is different," wrote Roberts in his opinion on the congressional subpoenas. "Here the president's information is sought not by prosecutors or private parties in connection with a particular judicial proceeding, but by committees of Congress that have set forth broad legislative objectives."

"Congress and the president — the two political branches established by the Constitution — have an ongoing relationship that the Framers intended to feature both rivalry and reciprocity,"  he continued.

Roberts wrote that the subpoenas brought concerns of the Constitution's separation of powers that the lower courts never fully considered when they ruled in favor of the House committees.

"Without limits on its subpoena powers, Congress could 'exert an imperious controul' over the Executive Branch and aggrandize itself at the president's expense, just as the Framers feared," the chief justice wrote. "And a limitless subpoena power would transform the 'established practice' of the political branches."

He does not feel that constitutional hurdles were diminished by the subpoenas being issued to third parties rather than Trump and asked for personal documents.

"Congressional demands for the president's information present an interbranch conflict no matter where the information is held — it is, after all, the president's information," wrote Roberts. "Were it otherwise, Congress could sidestep constitutional requirements any time a president's information is entrusted to a third party — as occurs with rapidly increasing frequency."

Because the president "is the only person who alone composes a branch of government," there is not always "a clear line between his personal and official affairs," wrote Roberts.

In his dissent, Thomas wrote that he would hold that Congress has no power to issue a subpoena related to potential legislation "for private, nonofficial documents — whether they belong to the president or not." He added that "Congres may be able to obtain these documents as part of an investigation of the president, but to do so, it must proceed under the impeachment power."

Alito said he wouldn't straight out assume that subpoenas are unlawful, but he would assume they are "inherently suspicious."

He agreed that lower courts should have to consider the separation of powers more fully but argued the majority didn't go far enough. 

"Specifically, the House should provide a description of the type of legislation being considered, and while great specificity is not necessary, the description should b sufficient to permit a court to assess whether the particular records sought are of any special importance," Alito concluded.

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