Trump Tax Returns Are Fair Game for New York Prosecutors, Supreme Court Rules

The Supreme Court delivered a big blow to President Donald Trump—who has taken great lengths to keep his financial records out of the public eye—by ruling that his tax returns and other information must be turned over to a grand jury in New York.

But prosecutors aren't likely to get their hands on the documents any time soon, because the case was sent to the lower district court for further review.

This was the first time that the president's financial records were under scrutiny from the Supreme Court. Three overlapping cases involving Trump's finances were argued on May 12 and were among the first to be heard in the Court's 230-year history via teleconference, an unprecedented precaution taken during the COVID-19 health crisis.

The 7-to-2 decision in Trump v. Vance was led by Chief Justice John Roberts, who said the Constitution doesn't grant the president absolute immunity or a higher standard from criminal subpoenas.

"In our judicial system, 'the public has a right to every man's evidence.' Since the earliest days of the Republic, 'every man' has included the President of the United States," Roberts wrote.

He was joined in his opinion by the court's liberal bloc—Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor—as well as Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito filed dissenting opinions.

In his dissent, Alito wrote that the majority's decision "threatens to impair the functioning of the Presidency and provides no real protection against the use of the subpoena power by the Nation's 2,300+ local prosecutors."

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had subpoenaed Trump's financial records as part of a New York grand jury investigation of criminal violations of state law. At the center of the probe are alleged hush-money payments made just before the 2016 election on behalf of Trump to two women who have alleged that they had extramarital affairs with him. Trump has denied he had such relationships with the women.

Lower courts upheld the requests from Vance, prompting Trump to take his appeal to the high court. The president's legal term has tried to claim that he has "absolute immunity" from being investigated while in office.

During arguments over this case in a lower court last year, Trump lawyer William Consovoy infamously argued that the president is so immune that he could shoot someone in the middle of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and not be criminally investigated.

The Supreme Court justices didn't seem to buy the president's case for total immunity during oral arguments in May. Justice Kagan highlighted during the case that it's a "fundamental precept of our constitutional order that a president isn't above the law."

Trump is the only president since Richard Nixon to not make his tax documents available to the public. Over the years, Trump and his allies have come up with many reasons as to why he couldn't or wouldn't release them, such as him being under audit by the IRS or that the documents are too complex for people to understand.

Manhattan District Attorney Vance celebrated the Supreme Court's ruling in a statement, calling it a "tremendous victory for our nation's system of justice and it's founding principle that no one—not even a president—is above the law."

Vance added: "Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume, guided as always by the grand jury's solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead."

While the Manhattan case was a blow to the president, the Supreme Court delivered him a temporary victory on two other cases dealing with House subpoenas for his financial documents in the consolidated Trump v. Mazars decision. In another 7-to-2 ruling led by Justice Roberts, the court said that the subpoenas would remain blocked and sent to a lower court for review.

Last year, the House argued that it was seeking the records from Mazars USA, Deutsche Bank and Capital One for the purpose of investigating whether Congress should amend federal conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure laws, as well as laws regulating banks.

Trump reacted to the ruling on Twitter, writing: "The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue. This is all a political prosecution. I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!"

This is a developing story and will be updated with more information as it becomes available.

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President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn upon his return to the White House in Washington, DC on May 27, 2020. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty