The Supreme Court in a split decision on Thursday granted New York state prosecutors access to President Trump’s tax returns, even as it shielded a trove of his financial records from Congress.
The justices upheld a Manhattan district attorney subpoena for eight years of Trump’s financial documents, including his personal and corporate tax returns. But they declined to grant Congress access to records subpoenaed by a trio of Democratic-led House committees.
Both cases were decided by a 7-2 vote.
The ruling in the New York dispute makes it more likely that Trump's tax returns are eventually made public, though it’s unclear if they would be disclosed before the November general election. More fundamentally, the decision flatly rejects Trump’s argument that a sitting president enjoys absolute immunity from investigations.
“In our judicial system, ‘the public has a right to every man’s evidence,’” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “Since the earliest days of the Republic, ‘every man’ has included the President of the United States.”
Roberts’ opinion siding with New York prosecutors was joined by the court’s liberal wing, as well as Trump’s two nominees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
The ruling in the New York case makes it more likely that Trump's tax returns are eventually made public, though it’s unclear if they would be disclosed before the November general election. More fundamentally, the decision narrows the immunity from criminal investigations that a sitting president enjoys.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision siding with New York prosecutors, which was joined by the court’s liberal wing, as well as Trump’s two nominees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
In the second case, the court’s decision not to enforce the congressional subpoenas means that Congress, for now, will not have access to materials the committees said they needed in order to assess the adequacy of current laws covering everything from ethics to money laundering, and to probe the susceptibility of U.S. elections to foreign interference.
Trump’s tax returns and financial records have been closely watched since his 2016 presidential campaign. He is the first president in decades to refuse to make any of his tax returns public, noting that he is under audit, though the IRS has said that does not prevent Trump from voluntary disclosure.
The New York case arose after Cyrus Vance Jr., the Democratic district attorney for Manhattan, obtained a grand jury subpoena for Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA.
Vance's office is looking into payments made to silence two women who allege they had affairs with Trump, including adult-film star Stormy Daniels, before he became president.
Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen is serving a prison term in part for his role in the payoff scheme, which violated campaign finance laws and which Cohen said he conducted at the direction of Trump to influence the 2016 presidential election.