Attorneys representing President Trump asked the Supreme Court to shield his tax and business records from investigators on Tuesday, arguing in a pair of high-profile cases that subpoenas from Congress and state authorities should be quashed given his responsibilities as head of the executive branch.
What We Know:
- According to The Washington Post, after the Democrats won a House majority in 2018, committees issued subpoenas to Mazars USA, an accounting firm, and Deutsche Bank, which lent money to Trump’s businesses. The president sued to prevent these firms from complying. Despite failing to convince lower courts that the House subpoenas should be ignored, the document handover was delayed while the dispute is litigated.
- New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, convened a New York grand jury to investigate potential violations of state law, which also subpoenaed Mazars. Trump’s lawyers failed to convince any lower courts that Mazars should refrain from turning over its documents, but the subpoenas remain unenforced.
- Trump’s lawyers argue that the House has no legitimate legislative purpose but wants to turn itself into a law enforcement body. But then, in fending off the district attorney’s subpoena, Trump’s lawyers turn around and argue that the Constitution allows only Congress, not state or federal law enforcement officers, to hold the president to account while he is in office. The upshot is that nobody could hold the president responsible for wrongdoing he may have committed before he took his oath.
- In fact, both the House and Vance have legitimate claims. Congressional subpoena power is broad, stemming from both its oversight and lawmaking roles, which are often linked. Even if House lawmakers intend primarily to scrutinize Mr. Trump’s financial history, judges must not discount the possibility that their findings could lead to new laws — say, White House ethics rules, campaign disclosure requirements or sanctions designed to dissuade foreign actors from influencing the next election. The nation has a paramount interest in a well-informed Congress.
- Vance’s case is even easier. Trump relies on a Justice Department policy that the president cannot be charged while in office to argue states can’t charge, either. Even if that logic held, it would not imply that state prosecutors cannot seek evidence. Vance points out that if he is denied the power to subpoena even third parties for records relating to the president’s history, that could equate to granting the president permanent immunity for past crimes, as evidence might be uncollected or lost during the president’s tenure.
- The Supreme Court previously declared that President Bill Clinton had to comply with coercive process in the Paula Jones lawsuit, a federal civil case that concerned his activities before he took office. The justices cannot easily turn around and declare Trump immune from state criminal judicial process regarding his past behavior.
In neither the House nor the Vance case is the president himself required to do anything. Compliance would not burden the executive branch or implicate privileged material. It would mainly offend Mr. Trump’s unease with any and all scrutiny.