Donald Trump has officially asked the Supreme Court to decide whether Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s efforts to get his hands on nearly a decade’s worth of financial records, including eight years of tax returns, should go forward.
The filing comes after a string of unsuccessful attempts to have the subpoena (which was issued to Trump’s accountant Mazars USA) blocked.
Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the New York-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the president, again rejecting a flagrantly ridiculous claim of broad immunity not just from prosecution, but from investigation while in office.
Trump’s attorneys went so far as to argue that in a hypothetical case where the president made good on his campaign trail “joke” about “stand[ing] in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot[ing] somebody”, local authorities could not even look into the murder.
“Local authorities couldn’t investigate? They couldn’t do anything about it?”, Denny Chin, one of the three judges on the federal appeals panel which reviewed the case asked, inquiring as to what options police would have if Trump grabbed a rifle, ran out into the middle of the street and gunned down a half-dozen pedestrians for no reason. “Nothing could be done? That’s your position?”, Chin asked.
“That is correct”, Trump’s attorney actually said.
Now, the Supreme Court will get to decide if that is in fact “correct”, assuming they agree to review the matter, which they probably will considering Trump lost a similar case on Wednesday, when the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declined to review a previous ruling against him in the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s bid to obtain financial records.
Manhattan prosecutors said they wouldn’t seek the returns until the case is resolved by the high court, on the condition SCOTUS decides whether to hear the case quickly, potentially setting the stage for a decision by next summer.
And so, here we are (this is from the petition, which is embedded in full below):
The District Attorney for the County of New York is conducting a criminal investigation that, by his own admission, targets the President of the United States for possible indictment and prosecution during his term in office. As part of that investigation, he served a grand-jury subpoena on a custodian of the President’s personal records, demanding production of nearly ten years’ worth of the President’s financial papers and his tax returns. That subpoena is the combination–almost a word-for-word copy–of two subpoenas issued by committees of Congress for these same papers. The Second Circuit rejected the President’s claim of immunity and ordered compliance with the subpoena.
The question presented is: Whether this subpoena violates Article II and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.
Needless to say, this sets up a potentially momentous separation-of-powers decision from a court which includes two Trump nominees, one of whom didn’t publicly proclaim his affinity for beer and hasn’t been accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women.
As the Washington Post writes, the DoJ did file a brief in support of the president as he fought to keep the records away from Vance, “but it did not endorse Trump’s assertion that he has absolute immunity from investigation”. Rather, the Justice Department “said there are some instances when a local prosecutor might legally seek a president’s documents – but this was not one of them”.
Perhaps the real question in all of this is what happens in the event Trump loses and simply refuses to comply by instructing Mazars, Treasury and the IRS to tell Vance (and Congress) to pound sand.
Somehow, that doesn’t seem wholly far-fetched anymore.