Trump must release his financial records to NY prosecutors, Supreme Court rules

The US President has for years attempted to hide his tax returns and business records from the public

The Supreme Court has ordered Donald Trump to release his financial records to New York prosecutors in a major defeat for the US President who has fought for years to shield them from scrutiny.

In a 7-2 ruling on Thursday, the country's top court said the president does not have absolute immunity from criminal investigation.

"Two hundred years ago, a great jurist of our Court established that no citizen, not even the President, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding," the court said. "We reaffirm that principle today."

Mr Trump said in a Tweet that he was the victim of "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!"

In a second ruling, which also passed by a margin of 7-2, the court said Mr Trump can block the release of his financial records to Congress, which has been seeking access to them for more than a year.

Congressional investigations have raised questions about whether Mr Trump has sensitive financial exposure to Russia, and also whether he has used questionable accounting loopholes to avoid paying taxes in the 1990s and 2000s.

Mr Trump’s two high court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the majority in both cases along with Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal justices.

“Congressional subpoenas for information from the President, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers. The courts below did not take adequate account of those concerns,” Mr Roberts wrote in the congressional case.

The ruling returns the case to lower courts, with no clear prospect for when the case might ultimately be resolved.

At the core of both of these cases, prosecutors are asking the court to force Mr Trump to comply with subpoena requests for his financial information.

The first case, from New York prosecutors, concerns one specific subpoena that the state of New York sent to the President’s accounting firm as part of an investigation into whether Mr Trump falsified his business records to cover up alleged “hush money” payments made to women he is accused of having extra-marital affairs with.

Such an unreported payment, made to obtain the silence of Ms Daniels over an alleged affair with the billionaire Republican, would be a violation of state laws covering campaign finances.

The Supreme Court ruled that Mr Trump must comply with the subpoena and share his financial records, including his tax returns. But due to grand jury secrecy rules, all documents will remain sealed unless Mr Trump is charged with a crime.

The justices rejected arguments by Mr Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department that the president is immune from investigation while he holds office or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the records.

The second case pitted Democrats against the president’s lawyers in a case involving four subpoenas for Mr Trump’s financial records that were issued by various committees in the House of Representatives.

The House Democrats cast a wider net in their Supreme Court case, rather than focusing on a specific incident as in the New York case. The Democrats’ case argued that Mr Trump’s financial records were necessary to complete an investigation into whether there should be amendments to federal laws that concern campaigning, ethics and separation of powers. The court blocked the Democrats request.

Unlike all of his predecessors since Richard Nixon in the 1970s, New York real estate mogul Mr Trump has refused to release his tax returns, despite promising to do so during his 2016 White House campaign.

Mr Trump made his fortune a key component of that campaign, and his lack of transparency raises questions about his true worth and possible conflicts of interest.

Attorneys for Mr Trump claim the president enjoys total immunity during his time in office, and that this is necessary so he can concentrate on his work without being "harassed" by prosecutors or lawmakers.

Updated: July 16, 2020 02:09 AM

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