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Supreme Court decides Trump must give tax returns to NYC prosecutor if subpoenaed, but not Congress for now

President Donald J. Trump listens to participants deliver remarks during the National Dialog on Safely Reopening America's Schools event Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
July 09, 2020

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Trump must comply with a subpoena for his tax returns and financial records for local criminal investigations, but not for congressional investigations at this time.

In a vote of 7-2, The Supreme Court first decided that Trump does not have immunity from a subpoena for his tax returns and financial records for a criminal investigation in New York City. In a second ruling, the court voted 7-2 that congressional investigations, however, raise concerns of separation of powers, and the court sent the case back to lower courts.

“The President is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need,” the court decided in the first case, adding that “absolute immunity” is not necessary for the president under the constitution.

In the second case, the court decided, “Congressional subpoenas for information from the President, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers. The courts below did not take adequate account of those concerns.”

After the decisions were announced, Trump tweeted, “The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue. 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!”

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“Courts in the past have given ‘broad deference’. BUT NOT ME!” Trump added.

The cases stem from appeals to two decisions in October 2019 from separate federal judges who ruled that Trump must hand over tax returns and financial records for congressional and criminal investigations, respectively.

On October 11, 2019, a three-panel judge with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia voted 2-1 that the House Oversight and Reform Committee has the authority “under both the House rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena” to Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, and the firm “must comply” with the subpoena.

The House committee had requested the previous eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns and other financial records from 2011 to the present. The committee argued that the documents were necessary for their investigation into the accuracy of Trump’s financial disclosure forms after his former attorney, Michael Cohen, testified that Trump “inflated his assets when it served his purposes” and underrepresented them in other instances.

Days earlier, Manhattan-based federal court Judge Victor Marrero declared in a 75-page ruling that Trump does not have presidential immunity from criminal investigations or judicial actions, and would thus be required to hand over the past eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns and other financial records.

Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. Vance, had issued a subpoena to Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, amid an investigation into whether Trump had reimbursed Cohen for payments made to porn film star Stormy Daniels regarding her nondisclosure of an alleged affair she claims to have had with Trump.

If Vance enforces the subpoena, the tax returns are not expected to become public due to rules protecting the confidentiality of grand jury investigations before criminal case proceedings begin.

While a sitting president is immune to federal charges due to temporary immunities provided to them via the Department of Justice during their time in the White House, that immunity does not extend to investigations, or charges by local prosecutors.

This article has been updated to clarify the court’s decision prevents Congressional subpoenas of Trump’s tax returns at this time, though the decision is not permanent and the case outcome can change in the future.