U.S. Supreme Court rules N.Y. prosecutors, but not yet Congress, can access Trump financial records

The United States Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the Manhattan district attorney's demand for President Donald Trump's tax returns but kept a hold on his financial records, which Congress has been seeking for more than a year.

Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, Trump appointees, sided with majority in both cases

U.S. President Donald Trump is shown at the East Room of the White House on Tuesday. Lawyers for Trump have argued before the courts that he has broad immunity from efforts to investigate his businesses. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

The United States Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the Manhattan district attorney's demand for President Donald Trump's tax returns but kept a hold on Trump's financial records, which Congress has been seeking for more than a year.

The court rejected broad arguments by Trump's lawyers and the Justice Department that the president is immune from investigation while he holds office or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the tax records.

"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," Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement.

But it is unclear when a lower court judge might order Vance's subpoena to be enforced, as the tax returns case is now headed back to a lower court. Because the grand jury process is confidential, Trump's taxes normally would not be made public.

In the congressional case, the justices also said that Congress has significant, but not limitless, power to demand the president's personal information.

WATCH | Susanne Craig of the New York Times with what the decisions mean:

Supreme Court hands win to N.Y. prosecutors on Trump tax returns, blocks Congress for now

3 years ago
Duration 5:47
Journalist Susanne Craig says decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court mean President Donald Trump's tax records will likely not be seen by the public before the November presidential election.

Each case was decided by a 7-2 vote.

Trump's two high court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the majority in both cases, along with Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal justices. Roberts wrote both opinions.

The ruling in the congressional case also returns that case to lower courts, with no clear prospect for when the case might ultimately be resolved.

"Congressional subpoenas for information from the president, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers," Roberts wrote in the congressional case. "The courts below did not take adequate account of those concerns."

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed the ruling in a statement as upholding the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution and said in a statement that the chamber's committees "will continue to press our case in the lower courts."

Read the Supreme Court decision in Trump et al. v. Mazars:

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Trump, the only president in nearly 50 years to not make his tax returns public, didn't immediately regard the outcome as a victory. But it is likely to prevent his opponents in Congress from obtaining potentially embarrassing personal and business records ahead of election day on Nov. 3.

"The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue," he tweeted. "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!"

WATCH | U.S. Supreme Court rules N.Y. prosecutors can access Trump's tax returns:

Supreme Court rules N.Y. prosecutors can access Trump’s tax returns

3 years ago
Duration 2:02
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New York prosecutors can access President Donald Trump’s tax returns and that he’s not immune from criminal prosecution.

Trump has frequently said since launching his presidential campaign in June 2015 said his taxes are under audit.

"The president's taxes are still under audit, I don't have specific years for you," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a briefing Thursday.

The Internal Revenue Service said in February 2016 that "nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information."

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden took a jab at Trump, referring to an earlier tweet which he posted about releasing 21 years of tax returns during his political career.

Trump team to continue legal battle: Sekulow

Lawyer Jay Sekulow, who argued on Trump's behalf before the Supreme Court with respect to the New York case, said he was pleased with the decisions.

"The Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the president's financial records," Sekulow said. "We will now proceed to raise additional constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts."

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented in both cases, with Alito warning that future presidents would suffer because of the decision about Trump's taxes.

"This case is almost certain to be portrayed as a case about the current president and the current political situation, but the case has a much deeper significance," Alito wrote. "While the decision will of course have a direct effect on President Trump, what the court holds today will also affect all future presidents — which is to say, it will affect the presidency, and that is a matter of great and lasting importance to the nation."

Thomas said if Congress wanted to pursue an investigation into the president and seek documents, it could proceed under its impeachment powers.

During Trump's recent impeachment by the House over his actions pressuring Ukraine, however, committees were often stymied by the administration in their request for documents or witnesses.

Bank, accounting firm reviewing obligations

The subpoenas by the Democratic-led committees are not directed at Trump himself. Instead, the committees are requesting records from Deutsche Bank, Capital One and the Mazars USA accounting firm.

Vance and the House's oversight and reform committee are seeking records from Mazars concerning Trump and his businesses based on payments that Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to keep two women — Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal — from airing their claims of decade-old extramarital affairs with Trump during the 2016 presidential race.

Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. is shown in 2018. Vance, whose office has investigated hush-money payments from Trump's former personal lawyer, hailed Wednesday's ruling. (Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press)

Vance's inquiry is said to be examining whether the payments or reimbursements broke any state laws. Carey Dunne, Vance's general counsel, had argued in earlier hearings that delays were onerous, as there were statute of limitations considerations with respect to some potential charges.

Attorney Lanny Davis, who has represented Cohen in the past, said on social media that Cohen was pleased by the decisions.

Trump "can engage in usual obstruction and delay delay delay, but sooner or later DA Vance subpoena will be enforced," Davis tweeted.

Mazars said Thursday it was "reviewing the decision in its entirety to fully understand our obligations. As previously noted, Mazars USA fully intends to comply with its legal obligations."

Deutsche Bank said it "has demonstrated full respect for the U.S. legal process and remained neutral throughout these proceedings. We will of course abide by a final decision by the courts."

The fight over the congressional subpoenas, meanwhile, has significant implications regarding a president's power to refuse a formal request from Congress. In a separate fight at the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., over a congressional demand for the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn, the administration is making broad arguments that the president's close advisers are "absolutely immune" from having to appear.

Read the Supreme Court decision in Trump v. Vance:

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With files from CBC News


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