By Alberto Garcia
The US Supreme Court ruled on two cases Thursday both dealing with President Donald Trump’s tax returns, with one decision allowing the disclose of his tax information, but the other denying Congress access to them.
On the final day of the Courts annual session, the two decisions were announced on 7-2 votes, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing both majority decisions.
In the first case, the Court ruled that the President is not immune from subpoenas from the Manhattan District Attorney that is investigating whether Trump or his companies violated New York state laws in connection with hush money payments made to two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who both allege they had affairs with Trump. The New York investigation is also looking into whether business records filed with the state were falsified and if any tax laws were violated. The case has been stalled for over a year after Trump sued to stop the disclose of his documents.
Trump’s lawyers argued that the President is immune from legal prosecution or investigation while in office, even making the argument that he couldn’t be charged with murder if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York, a reference to a statement Trump made in 2016 when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes.
“(W)e cannot conclude that absolute immunity is necessary or appropriate under Article II or the Supremacy Clause. Our dissenting colleagues agree,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the opinion. “We reaffirm that principle today and hold that the President is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need.”
The Supreme Court voted to send the case back to the lower court to decide on how the documents will be released, but the delay will most likely mean the information will not be released before the November election. The four liberal Justices were joined by Chief Roberts and both of Trump’s appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito filed dissenting opinions.
In the second case, the Court ruled that Congressional subpoenas for Trump’s tax records “should be carefully scrutinized, for they stem from a rival political branch that has an ongoing relationship with the President and incentives to use subpoenas for institutional advantage.”
Congressional Democrats subpoenaed the records from Trump’s longtime accounting firm and two banks as they investigated Trump on several fronts, including the alleged hush money payments, illegal foreign involvement in his campaign, and potential violations of money laundering and ethics rules.
The Court ruled that Congress had other methods of obtaining such documents.
“While we certainly recognize Congress’s important interests in obtaining information through appropriate inquiries, those interests are not sufficiently powerful to justify access to the President’s personal papers when other sources could provide Congress the information it needs,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.
Roberts was again joined by the four liberal Justices as well as Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, with both Thomas and Alito dissenting.
The New York case will now continue to pursue the tax information. In recent months, investigators have interviewed Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, as well as David Pecker, the CEO of National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., who admitted in federal court to making payments during the 2016 election cycle to quiet a woman who alleged an affair with Trump.
Cohen, who was convicted of lying to Congress, tax charges, and two campaign finance charges for facilitating hush money payments to Daniels and McDougal, was sent back to prison on Thursday after having been released on parole due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was only halfway through a three year sentence when he was released on home confinement in May. He will now serve the rest of his sentence in prison.