SCOTUS rules against Trump on financial records subpoena in NY criminal investigation

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A pedestrian holding an umbrella walks along First Street, as a series of rulings are issued at the United States Supreme Court in Washington, July 6, 2020.undefined Tom Brenner/Reuters, FILE

By ABC for Lolwe digital

In a history-making decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled President Donald Trump cannot block a subpoena for his financial records sought by a New York prosecutor, ruling he is not immune from criminal investigation.

Trump’s lawyers had argued he had “absolute immunity.”

The decision is a major legal defeat for Trump, although it is highly unlikely the public will see the president’s tax returns or financial records before Election Day. If the records are turned in the grand jury probe, they must remain secret.

In the most recent time Chief Justice John Roberts has sided with the court’s liberal side in a high-profile case, he wrote for the 7-2 majority, “Article II and the Supremacy Clause do not categorically preclude, or require a heightened standard for, the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting President.”

The majority rejected the president’s claims of absolute immunity from criminal investigative process and affirms the ability of the Manhattan DA to subpoena he president’s financial records — but the court returns the matter back to a lower court for further proceedings to allow the president to “raise further arguments as appropriate.”

“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. 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,” Roberts wrote.

The justices Trump named to the court — Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — voted with the majority while Justices Thomas and Alito dissented.

Trump tweeted shortly after the decision was revealed that the matter is a “political prosecution.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is seeking multiple years of documents as part of their respective investigations into potential wrongdoing by Trump prior to his presidency.

He called the ruling a “tremendous victory” and said that the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation will resume.

“This is a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one – not even a president – is above the law,” Vance said in a statement. “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.”

The president’s attorneys said they were “pleased.”

“We are pleased that in the decisions issued today, the Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the President’s tax records. We will now proceed to raise additional Constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts,” Jay Sekulow, Counsel to the President, said in a statement on the New York case and a second case in which the court blocked congressional subpoenas, also sending the matter back to a lower court.

In the case of Trump v. Mazars USA LLP and Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG & Capital One, House committees subpoenaed a sweeping array of Trump personal and business records predating his time in the White House, including bank statements, engagement letters, personal checks, loan applications and tax returns. They say the information is critical to drafting of federal ethics laws, anti-corruption legislation and campaign finance rules involving presidents.

In Trump v. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Vance says 10 years of Trump’s tax returns are legitimately sought by a grand jury in a probe that involves possible violations of state tax law.

During oral arguments in May, there was broad concern among justices about the potential for “harassment” of a president but also skepticism of claims that a president enjoys “absolute immunity.”

When Trump’s personal accounting firm and three financial institutions used by him and his business were initially subpoenaed for the information, Trump intervened to block the third parties from complying.

He has lost at every level in lower federal courts.

Trump is the only modern American president to have not publicly released tax returns or divest from major business interests while in office.