Supreme Court temporarily blocks access to Trump’s tax, financial records while more legal papers filed

Kevin McCoy and Richard Wolf

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered a continuing legal block on a powerful House committee’s access to years of President Donald Trump’s tax returns and financial records from his longtime accounting firm.

Acting as presidential impeachment proceedings seemed to inch forward, the court blocked the effect of a recent federal appeals court ruling in favor of the House panel and told attorneys for the Republican president and Democrat-controlled House to file  arguments on whether the nation’s highest court should conduct a full review of the case.

The decision gave Trump legal hope after lower courts ruled against him and left the Supreme Court as his last chance to shield his records from being examined.  

The high court said the stay of the appeals court’s ruling should remain in place if the first of those additional legal arguments is submitted by Dec. 5. If Trump’s request for full review is denied, the stay “shall terminate automatically,” the court said, opening the door to release of presidential financial records to the House committee.  If the court agrees to hear Trump’s case, the stay will remain in effect until the court issues a final ruling. 

The Supreme Court has conferences scheduled for Dec. 6 and Dec. 13, during which the justices meet and decide which cases to accept or reject. That timetable suggests the court could decide whether to accept the case for a full review before the year-end holidays

The action came after Trump on Friday reiterated his legal arguments for a Supreme Court review of the battle over the congressional committee’s subpoena for his tax returns and financial records.

Responding to a Thursday filing from lawyers for the House of Representatives, Trump’s lawyers, led by William Consovoy, urged the court to continue the legal stay that has so far blocked the panel’s subpoena for the records.

“The court should grant the stay. This is a significant separation-of-powers-clash between the President and the Congress,” Consovoy argued in an emergency response filing that said the views of dissenting judges in lower courts “made a compelling case why review is warranted and the decision” against Trump in those courts “is unlikely to survive further review” by the Supreme Court.

Consovoy had also contended that the House committee would “suffer no irreparable harm” if the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis that would result in a decision by next June. In contrast, Trump and his companies “will obviously suffer irreparable harm” if a stay is denied, the presidential legal team argued.

Trump is prepared to proceed “on any schedule that the court deems appropriate” if the court keeps the stay in place pending a full review, Consovoy wrote in the 12-page response.

The filing by Trump legal team’s was submitted the day after the Democrat-controlled House finished public impeachment hearings.

The Supreme Court’s order is the latest development in two legal battles over access to years of Trump’s tax returns and financial records for both him and his businesses. One involves the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s investigation into Trump’s business dealings. 

The other case stems from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s subpoena for similar Trump records as the New York City prosecutor investigates hush-money payments to two women who said they had sexual affairs with Trump before his 2016 White House win. Trump has denied their allegations.

Taken together, the two cases involve broad constitutional questions. One focuses on the breadth of Congress’ investigative and legislative powers; the other involves the untested issue of whether presidents, while they are in office, are subject to criminal investigations by local prosecutors.

More: House panel, NYC prosecutor urge Supreme Court to grant access to Trump’s tax, financial records

President Donald Trump speaks to the media about the impeachment proceedings on the South Lawn of the White House on Nov. 20, 2019. Trump recounted Ambassador Sondland’s testimony, repeatedly saying ‘I want nothing’ in return for aid to Ukraine. Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA-EFE

The lawsuit underlying Monday’s Supreme Court order stems from a subpoena for the records that the House committee issued to the Mazars USA accounting firm.

The panel said it needs the records for an investigation to determine “whether senior government officials, including the president, are acting in the country’s best interest and not in their own financial interest … , whether federal agencies are operating free from financial conflicts and with accurate information, and whether any legislative reforms are needed to ensure that these fundamental principles are respected.”

Trump’s lawyers argued in response that the committee is engaging in law enforcement, not performing its legislative function, in a test of the constitutional separation of powers between the U.S. executive and legislative branches.

The underlying legal issues focus on “whether the President will be allowed to petition for review of an unprecedented demand for his personal papers, or whether he’ll be deprived of that chance because the committee issued the subpoena to a third-party custodian with no incentive to test its validity,” Trump’s attorneys contended in an earlier Supreme Court filing.

In Friday’s response, Trump’s lawyers argued that “granting relief in cases like this will have little to no bearing on the House’s ability to conduct oversight or to collect information about the Executive Branch” of the federal government.

In the separate New York City case, the presidential legal team is battling Vance’s subpoena to the Mazars accounting firm for eight years of Trump’s tax returns and financial records from Trump’s family business.

Vance seeks the records for a criminal investigation of the hush-money payments to adult film star Stephanie Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, and former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal. The investigation focuses in part on how the payments were reflected in records of The Trump Organization, which is headquartered in New York City.

In that case, Trump’s lawyers have argued that the president has absolute immunity from investigation during his term of office. Additionally, the U.S. solicitor general has taken the view in a recent friend-of-the court brief, backing Trump’s position, that “state grand jury subpoenas seeking the President’s personal records raise serious constitutional concerns.”

Rulings in the two cases would be likely by June if the Supreme Court’s nine justices — five conservatives and four liberals — conduct full reviews of one or both of Trump’s appeals from lower court rulings that rejected his arguments. Such a timetable could result in high-stakes rulings at the expected height of the 2020 presidential race.

However, the potential decisions would likely come after House Democrats have completed their impeachment inquiry and the Republican-controlled Senate has finished a trial on any articles of impeachment that might be approved by the House. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would preside over a potential Senate trial.

More: Trump tells Fox News anchors ‘I want a trial’ if House Democrats vote to impeach

Impeachment: Donald Trump v. the Constitution

Source USA TODAY.

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