The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Trump’s assertion that he enjoys absolute immunity while in office, allowing a New York prosecutor to pursue a subpoena of the president’s private and business financial records.
In a separate case, the court sent a fight over congressional subpoenas for the material back to lower courts because of “significant separation of powers concerns.”
“In our judicial system, ‘the public has a right to every man’s evidence,’” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the New York case, citing an ancient maxim. “Since the earliest days of the Republic, ‘every man’ has included the President of the United States.”
In both cases, the justices ruled 7 to 2, with Trump nominees Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh joining the majorities. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.”
Trump reacted angrily, and inaccurately, on Twitter: “Courts in the past have given ‘broad deference’. BUT NOT ME!”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement: “This 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.”
The president’s lawyer Jay Sekulow said in a statement, “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 tax records. We will now proceed to raise additional constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts.”
While the court said Vance had the authority to subpoena the records from Trump’s private accounting firm, it also sent the case back to a district court for more work.
The information is part of a grand jury investigation, so the joint decisions probably dash the hopes of Trump opponents that the information will be available to the public before November’s election.
Vance is investigating whether the Trump Organization falsified business records to conceal hush payments to two women, including pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged they had affairs with Trump years ago. Trump has denied those claims.
Vance is seeking Trump’s tax returns, among other records. The president has refused to make them public, unlike previous modern presidents. Because the records are for a grand jury investigation, they would not likely be disclosed before the election.
Separately, three House committees have sought bypass the president to obtain his financial records from his longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, and financial institutions. The committees, all controlled by Democrats, say they are needed to check Trump’s financial disclosures and inform whether conflict-of-interest laws are tough enough.
Lawmakers’ line of investigation is more expansive than the district attorney’s. They have demanded information “about seven business entities, as well as the personal accounts of President Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump,” according to the brief filed by the president’s private lawyers.
The congressional subpoenas followed testimony from Trump’s former fixer, attorney Michael Cohen, who told lawmakers that Trump had exaggerated his wealth to seek loans. Two committees subpoenaed Capital One and Deutsche Bank as part of their investigation into Russian money laundering and potential foreign influence involving Trump.
Federal judges in New York and Washington, D.C. — at the district court and appeals court levels — had moved swiftly by court standards and repeatedly ruled against Trump and to uphold Congress’s broad investigative powers.