Supreme Court Gives Manhattan Prosecutor Access To Trump Financial Records But Rebuffs House Democrats

Supreme Court Gives Manhattan Prosecutor Access To Trump Financial Records But Rebuffs House Democrats

Supreme Court

In a split decision, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that a New York City grand jury may access President Donald Trump’s financial records, but sent cases involving congressional demands for the president’s papers back to lower courts for additional proceedings.

The decisions mean the president’s long-sought financial records will probably not be made public before the November election. The documents now available to Manhattan prosecutors are, for the moment, protected by grand jury secrecy laws, and the lower court litigation involving House Democrats will take months to resolve.

Both cases present historic questions about presidential power, pitting two branches of government against one another in a power contest over the limits of privacy and oversight. Trump’s outside lawyers warned that the Court’s decisions could open future chief executives to regular harassment from partisan local prosecutors and open their pre-presidential personal lives to prying congressional eyes. The momentous stakes loomed over the Court during oral arguments in May.

“What I hold today will also apply to a future Senator McCarthy asking a future Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman exactly the same questions,” Justice Stephen Breyer said.

Thursday’s cases involve subpoenas from two separate entities. The first set are from three committees controlled by House Democrats, who issued subpoenas to the president’s longtime creditors and accountants for personal and professional financial records going back a decade. Democrats say those materials are relevant to ethics and finance legislation under consideration, as well as inquiries into foreign meddling in U.S. elections. The second is a grand jury subpoena from Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, who is leading a state criminal investigation into supposed hush money payments from the president to women with whom he allegedly had extramarital affairs.

At the center of the House dispute is whether the subpoenas have a “legitimate legislative purpose.” Lawyers for the president say the House gave phony reasons for issuing their subpoenas. They contend that the subpoenas are driven by politics and partisanship, while the pending legislation Democrats cite is merely a pretext. That legislation is unconstitutional anyway, Trump’s lawyers add, since the only permissible conditions and qualifications for the office of president are those named in the Constitution.

House lawyers counter that Congress can investigate any area on which legislation can be had.

The Vance subpoena seemed less problematic to the justices during oral arguments. In past cases, the Court unanimously required President Richard Nixon to turn over the infamous Watergate tapes to investigators and rejected President Bill Clinton’s bid to put off a lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct until he left office. Trump’s lawyers say this case is different because it involves a local prosecutor, not a federal one. An incumbent president has absolute immunity from state and local prosecution while in office, they argue.

The Department of Justice supported the president in both disputes. The cases are No. 19-715 Trump v. Mazars and No. 19-635 Trump v. Vance.

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