WASHINGTON – President Trump and some of his associated businesses asked the Supreme Court again Thursday to shield the president’s tax returns and financial documents from investigators prying into his personal and business affairs.
The legal filing from Trump’s personal lawyers was the latest development in a fast-moving battle between Trump, Democrats in Congress and a New York prosecutor that could wind up before the high court in the middle of the 2020 election campaign.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee wants eight years of financial documents from Mazars USA, Trump’s longtime accounting firm, to compare them with testimony from his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as well as with government disclosures. Cohen told Congress that before becoming president, Trump routinely overstated or understated his holdings, depending on his needs.
Trump’s lawyers have attacked the subpoena on several grounds in an effort to make Congress’ probes look more like a fishing expedition than a legislative endeavor. So far, they have succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to put a temporary hold on the committee’s demands, which was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
“Under the D.C. Circuit’s decision, Congress can subpoena any private records it wishes from the president on the mere assertion that it is considering legislation that might require presidents to disclose that same information,” they argued in court papers Thursday.
“Given the obvious temptation to investigate the personal affairs of political rivals, subpoenas concerning the private lives of presidents will become routine in times of divided government,” they said.
The House of Representatives’ general counsel, Douglas Letter, has countered that the records are needed to help determine “whether senior government officials, including the president, are acting in the country’s best interest and not in their own financial interest.”
After hearing the House committee’s response, the justices will have to decide whether to hear the case, which is similar to another involving Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s criminal probe into payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump before his election, allegations which Trump has denied. The court could decide as early as Dec. 13 whether to take one or both cases, or wait until January to make those decisions.
If the high court refuses to step in, Trump’s tax returns and financial records will be fair game. Unlike past presidents dating back 40 years, Trump has refused to release his tax returns, claiming he cannot do so while they are being audited.
Still more subpoenas have been issued by other House committees, all controlled by Democrats, seeking records relating to Trump’s private real estate business, as well as those of his family members and other entities. Earlier this week, a federal appeals court in New York upheld the House Committee on Financial Services’ subpoena regarding loans provided to Trump and his business by Deutsche Bank and Capital One to finance real estate properties.
While the president is on a losing streak in federal and state courts, his lawyers hope for a more friendly reception at a Supreme Court partially remade in Trump’s image. Two of the nine justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, are his nominees.
Trump’s lawyers urged the high court Thursday to reverse lower court decisions because “the committee’s investigation of the president lacks a legitimate legislative purpose. It is a law-enforcement investigation about uncovering whether the president engaged in wrongdoing.”