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Protesters take part in the Tax March in New York City in 2017 calling on President Donald Trump to release his tax records. (Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)

'No One Is Above the Law': Supreme Court Allows New York Prosecutor to Subpoena Trump Financial Records

A split decision on two separate cases pertaining to the president's taxes will likely leave the documents out of public view until after the election. 

Julia Conley

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Manhattan prosecutor Cyrus Vance can subpoena President Donald Trump's financial records as part of an investigation into hush-money payments made to women during the 2016 election, but blocked Congress from seeing the records for the time being. 

The rulings were both 7-2, with Trump appointees Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joining the majority and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissenting.

The president's accounting firm, Mazars USA, is now expected to comply with a subpoena from a grand jury established by Vance's office. Vance is attempting to obtain eight years of business and personal tax records pertaining to payments that Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election. The president reimbursed Cohen for the payments.

"The Supreme Court has now confirmed what the American people have been declaring for three years: Donald Trump cannot escape oversight and he owes the nation the truth about his financial misdeeds."
—Tax March and Stand Up America

Vance called the high court's decision "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."

The ruling in favor of the Manhattan district attorney could have implications for presidential powers, as Trump had argued he should be immune from state investigations during his term to avoid unnecessary distractions. 

Citing the Supreme Court's 1974 ruling requiring President Richard Nixon to turn over tapes to the Watergate investigators, Vance argued that the court "has long recognized that a sitting president may be subject to a subpoena in a criminal proceeding."

Trump's financial records could shed light on possible conflicts of interest, his payment or non-payment of taxes, and his possible violation of campaign finance laws, Vance said.

"The Supreme Court has now confirmed what the American people have been declaring for three years: Donald Trump cannot escape oversight and he owes the nation the truth about his financial misdeeds," said Maura Quint of Tax March and Sean Eldridge of Stand Up America in a joint statement. "Donald Trump broke decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns after promising multiple times during his presidential candidacy that he would, and he's now spent years profiting off the presidency and blocking every effort to hold him accountable for his conflicts of interest."

Public advocacy groups on social media applauded the court's decision.

While government watchdogs commended the ruling in Vance's case, the court's decision regarding House Democrats' attempts to subpoena records pertaining to Trump's creditors, Deutsche Bank and Capitol One, and the payments to Daniels, could keep the documents out of public view until after the November election.

"The immediate effect is that litigation over the congressional subpoenas seeking Trump financial documents will continue, and the subpoenas will not be enforced right now," tweeted SCOTUSBlog.

On CNN, analyst Jeffrey Toobin explained how the court ruled that lower courts did not scrutinize the congressional subpoenas sufficiently in earlier rulings:

This process will begin again. The district court will get briefings. They may hear evidence. That will be appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. And then the losing party will likely go back to the Supreme Court. All of this will take a while.

As such, Toobin said, the pair of rulings represents a legal defeat but a "practical victory" for the president.

Still, the president expressed frustration that the case was not definitively resolved in his favor, tweeting that the continuation of arguments in the lower courts will amount to "political prosecution" and are "not fair to this presidency or administration!"

"Any time Trump's taxes are in the news, it's bad for him," Washington Post political reporter Dave Weigel tweeted. "'Trump should release his tax returns' is a 2-1 majority issue in polling."

"Congressional and criminal investigators must continue working to ensure that the public gets answers to the questions Trump refuses to give about his finances," said Quint and Eldridge. "The American people deserve the truth, they deserve transparency, they deserve accountability—and they deserve it now."

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