Can Trump Block Investigators Attempt to access His Financial Documents?

Published May 12th, 2020 - 12:35 GMT
A member of the Secret Service wears a surgical mask as US President Donald Trump arrives for a news conference on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on May 11, 2020. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
A member of the Secret Service wears a surgical mask as US President Donald Trump arrives for a news conference on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on May 11, 2020. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
Highlights
The committee first requested the returns after Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified that the president manipulated the value of his assets for personal gain.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three cases on Tuesday that will determine whether President Donald Trump can block congressional investigators' years-long attempts to access his tax returns and other financial documents.

The high court will hear all cases via teleconference beginning at 10 a.m. The hearings are available to the public with a live audio feed, as the court has done since it first began remote sessions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

All three cases were initially scheduled to be heard by the high court in March, but were postponed due to the health emergency.

In the first case, the justices will hear a challenge from Trump's attorneys to block a subpoena from the House oversight committee that requests Trump's tax returns from the accounting firm Mazars USA.

The committee first requested the returns after Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified that the president manipulated the value of his assets for personal gain.

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., upheld an earlier ruling that said the firm must hand over the records. Trump attorneys then applied for a stay last fall, arguing that House lawmakers lack authority to issue subpoenas for any purpose other than writing laws.

"This is the first time that Congress has subpoenaed private records of a sitting president," Trump attorney William Consovoy wrote in a Supreme Court brief. "These subpoenas are no more valid than would be demands for the president's medical records so Congress may consider health care reform."

House Democrats responded by arguing Congress does indeed have subpoena power as a measure to assess how federal laws are working.

"It is scarcely surprising that investigators need to conduct a thorough investigation when seeking to determine whether money laundering, election and national security, disclosure and conflict of interest laws are sufficient," they wrote in their brief.

The second case before the high court Tuesday is a response to grand jury subpoenas obtained by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance that seek nearly a decade's worth of Trump's financial records.

The case is related to an investigation into purported "hush money" payments the president is said to have made to two women to keep secret extramarital affairs involving Trump.

Trump's attorneys argue a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office and is therefore immune from any part of the criminal justice process, including grand jury subpoenas.

"We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant review in this significant constitutional case and reverse the dangerous and damaging decision of the appeals court," Trump's team argued last November.

"The risk that politics will lead state and local prosecutors to relentlessly harass the president is simply too great to tolerate."

A lower appellate court, however, ruled Vance's subpoena is lawful because it's directed at Mazars USA, Trump's accounting firm, not the president himself. It also ruled that the subpoena is lawful because it seeks items related to his private business, not his official capacity as president.

Vance wants eight years of Trump's fiscal records for his investigation into payments he says were made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal.

The president's attorneys are also seeking to have the high court block congressional subpoenas for financial information from two banks that have provided services to Trump's businesses -- Deutsche Bank and Capital One.

The subpoenas seek to investigate the president's past dealings with foreign businesses, including transactions potentially linked to Iran and Russia, to determine whether they violated the law.

A lower appellate court ruled in favor of the House committees, saying there is a legitimate concern that involves "national security and the integrity of elections."

Rulings in all three cases are expected by the end of June.

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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