The supreme court said on Friday it will hear Donald Trump’s pleas to keep his tax, bank and financial records private, a major tussle between the president and Congress that could also affect the 2020 presidential campaign.
The justices are poised to issue decisions in June, amid Trump’s bid for a second term. Rulings against the president could result in the quick release of personal financial information that Trump has sought strenuously to keep private.
The court will also decide whether the Manhattan district attorney can obtain eight years of Trump’s tax returns as part of a criminal investigation.
Arguments will take place in late March. The subpoenas are separate from the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Trump, headed for a vote in the full House next week. Indeed, it is almost certain the court will not hear the cases until after a Senate trial over whether to remove Trump has ended.
Trump sued to prevent banks and accounting firms from complying with subpoenas for his records from three committees of the House of Representatives and the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance.
In three separate cases, he has so far lost at every step, but the records have not been turned over pending a final court ruling. Now it will be up to a court that includes two Trump appointees, justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, to decide.
In two earlier cases over presidential power, the justices acted unanimously in requiring President Richard Nixon to turn over White House tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor and in allowing a sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton to go forward.
In those cases, three Nixon appointees and two Clinton appointees, respectively, voted against the president who chose them for the high court. A fourth Nixon appointee, William Rehnquist, sat out the tapes case because he had worked closely as a justice department official with some of the Watergate conspirators whose upcoming trial spurred the subpoena for the Oval Office recordings.
In none of the cases are the subpoenas directed at Trump himself. Instead, House committees want records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One, as well as the Mazars USA accounting firm. Mazars also is the recipient of Vance’s subpoena.
In each case, Vance and House Democrats have argued there is no compelling legal issue at stake, since they are seeking records from third parties, not Trump himself.
But Trump said in his appeals that the cases are the first time congressional and local criminal investigators have tried to pry free a president’s records to investigate wrongdoing. “This is a case of firsts,” Trump’s lawyers told the justices about congressional demands for Trump’s financial records from Mazars.
The Vance case represents the first time in American history that a “state or local prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation of the president”, the lawyers wrote.
Appellate courts in Washington DC and New York brushed aside the Trump arguments in decisions that focused on the subpoenas being addressed to third parties and asking for records of Trump’s business and financial dealings as a private citizen, not as president.
Two congressional committees subpoenaed the bank documents as part their investigations into Trump and his businesses. Deutsche Bank has been one of the few banks willing to lend to Trump after a series of corporate bankruptcies and defaults starting in the early 1990s.
Vance and the House oversight and reform committee sought records from Mazars concerning Trump and his businesses based on payments that Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to keep two women from airing their claims of affairs with Trump during the presidential race.