US Supreme Court allows prosecutor but not Congress to get Trump’s financial records

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Unlike other recent presidents, Mr Trump has refused to release his tax returns and other documents that could provide details on his wealth. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Supreme Court on Thursday (July 9) ruled that a New York prosecutor can obtain President Donald Trump's financial records but prevented - at least for now - the Democratic-led House of Representatives from obtaining similar documents.

Both 7-2 rulings were authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. One ruling means that the subpoena issued to Mr Trump's long-term accounting firm, Mazars LLP, for various financial records to be turned over to a grand jury as part of a criminal investigation can be enforced.

But the court sidestepped a major ruling on whether three House committees could also obtain Mr Trump financial documents under subpoena, in what is a short-term win for Mr Trump.

Litigation will now continue in lower courts.

In both rulings, Mr Roberts was joined by the court's four liberals as well as Mr Trump's two conservative appointees to the court, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

The prosecutor and the House committees all issued subpoenas to third parties for the records, not the Republican president himself.

Mr Trump went to Twitter shortly after the rulings to complain about the outcome, writing, "Courts in the past have given 'broad deference'. BUT NOT ME!"

"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," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, in relation to the ruling in his case.

The ruling in that case does not mean the documents will be handed over immediately as there is likely to be further litigation in lower courts, which means a final outcome could be delayed in both cases until after the Nov 3 election in which Mr Trump is seeking a second term in office.

Mr Roberts rejected both the broad arguments for presidential immunity made by Mr Trump's lawyers and the sweeping arguments made in favour of the House's ability to investigate the president.

"Congressional subpoenas for the President's personal information implicate weighty concerns regarding the separation of powers," Mr Roberts wrote. "Neither side, however, identifies an approach that accounts for these concerns."

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Unlike other recent presidents, Mr Trump has refused to release his tax returns and other documents that could provide details on his wealth and the activities of his family real-estate company, the Trump Organisation.

The content of these records has remained a persistent mystery even as he seeks re-election on Nov 3.

Thursday's rulings represent another milestone in Mr Trump's tumultuous presidency.

House committees issued subpoenas seeking Mr Trump's financial records from his longtime accounting firm Mazars LLP and two banks, Deutsche Bank and Capital One.

As part of a criminal investigation by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, subpoenas were issued to Mazars for financial records including nearly a decade of Mr Trump's tax returns to be turned over to a grand jury in New York City.

The investigation launched by Mr Vance's office in 2018 into Mr Trump and the Trump Organization was spurred by disclosures of hush payments to two women who said they had past sexual relationships with him, pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Mr Trump and his aides have denied the relationships.

In the litigation over the House subpoenas, Mr Trump argued that Congress lacked a valid purpose for seeking his records and that disclosure of the material would compromise his and his family's privacy and distract him from his duties.

In the New York case, Mr Trump's lawyers argued that under the Constitution he is immune from any criminal proceeding while serving as president. They also cited Justice Department guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted.

In a lower court hearing, Mr Trump's lawyers went so far as to argue that law enforcement officials would not have the power to investigate Mr Trump even if he shot someone on New York's Fifth Avenue.

The House Oversight Committee in April 2019 issued a subpoena to Mazars seeking eight years of accounting and other financial information in response to the congressional testimony of Michael Cohen, Mr Trump's former lawyer.

Mr Cohen said Mr Trump had inflated and deflated certain assets on financial statements between 2011 and 2013 in part to reduce his real estate taxes.

The House Financial Services Committee has been examining possible money laundering in US property deals involving Mr Trump.

In a separate investigation, the House Intelligence Committee is investigating whether Mr Trump's dealings left him vulnerable to the influence of foreign individuals or governments.

After the court acted, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in an interview on CNBC, said, "I would say ... when things go to Congress, they tend to get leaked, and when things go to grand juries they don't."

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