Can Donald Trump refuse to turn over his tax returns and financial records to congressional and New York prosecutors? The US Supreme Court on Tuesday addresses this issue with clear political overtones, an occasion to better define the limits of presidential immunity.
The nine high-court judges, confined at home by the new coronavirus pandemic, will question lawyers on both sides by phone in a highly anticipated session to be broadcast live.
The hearing, originally scheduled for late March, is now being held to give judges time to decide the November presidential election, in which Trump is seeking a second term.
The former real estate magnate, who flaunted his fortune in the 2016 election campaign, is the first president since Richard Nixon in the 1970s to refuse to turn in his tax returns, sparking rumours about his estate and possible financial problems.
“There is something in these documents that the president does not want us to see,” Steven Mazie, a writer, and professor, said during an online seminar.
Since taking control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, the Democratic opposition has been eager to discover what that “something” might be.
Several congressional committees have long asked the accounting firm Mazars, as well as Deutsche Bank and Capital One, for Trump’s financial records between 2011 and 2018.
Manhattan Democratic District Attorney Cyrus Vance made a similar lawsuit against Mazars as part of an investigation into the payments porn actress Stormy Daniels received to keep her from airing an alleged relationship with the president.
Trump immediately sued to block the delivery of the documents. “What they are doing is not legal,” the president said on Twitter, adding that “the witch hunt continues.“
And having lost in the lower courts, Trump turned to the highest court in the country. After the president appointed two conservative judges out of the nine that comprise it, the Supreme Court has taken a clear turn to the right.
“Rack The President” –
The judges will dedicate the first hour of presentation of oral arguments on Tuesday to the citations of Congress, which will have as a backdrop the fierce battle over the investigative powers of the Legislative.
The attorneys for the House of Representatives responded in their report that these requests are nothing new and gave examples of past requests made to Presidents Richard Nixon, a Republican, and Jimmy Carter, a Democrat.
The Supreme Court may be tempted to sidestep the central issue. In late April, it asked both parties to respond in writing to the question whether the matter was political and not legal in nature.
If the former is true, judges can close the file without making a decision. Both sides said “no” on Friday, a clear gesture for the court to make a decision.
Murder On Fifth Avenue –
In the second phase of Tuesday’s session, judges will address the case involving the Manhattan prosecutor, raising the question of the extent of presidential immunity from the law.
Trump’s lawyers argued in an appeals court that the president could even shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and face no legal sanction while in office.
“Couldn’t you do nothing?” Asked a skeptical judge. “Right,” replied the president’s attorney.
For Trump’s legal team, the need for immunity is “particularly acute when it comes to state and local prosecutors.”
But law professors Claire Finkelstein and Richard Painter say this view contradicts other decisions made by the Supreme Court.
This court required Nixon to turn over secret recordings from the White House to the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
The two professors added in an amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court that an expansive interpretation of presidential immunity would represent a “serious threat to the rule of law.”
If the Supreme Court accepts the arguments of the Trump team, they added, “it will alter the basic principles of responsibility on which” American democracy depends.