We are a step closer to the truth.
In a stunning setback for President Trump, the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the president is not immune from scrutiny of his financial documents.
In Trump v. Vance, the Court ruled that New York state prosecutors can subpoena his tax returns, and in Trump v. Mazars, the Court ruled that Congress has the power to subpoena his records as well. Because litigation will continue in both cases, neither decision guarantees the release of these returns — certainly not before the November election.
In both cases, the justices ruled 7 to 2, with Trump nominees Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh joining the majorities. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.
At a time where decisions feel as though they are coming from the other side of the Looking Glass (or for a more modern reference, the Upside Down), it is reassuring to be reminded how important the courts are to the foundation of our democracy.
It is part of the oversight the Founding Fathers sought: Without checks against the president, there can be no separation of powers.
For sure, the rulings leave several questions unanswered, but the court’s decisions reiterate the point that the president is not above the law.
It’s now up to the lower courts to properly enforce these decisions to hold this president accountable for violating the law. This setback, at the highest level, makes Trump more vulnerable.
“In our judicial system, ‘the public has a right to every man’s evidence,’” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the New York case, citing an ancient maxim. “Since the earliest days of the Republic, ‘every man’ has included the President of the United States.”
The president, predictably, reacted angrily on Twitter: “Courts in the past have given ‘broad deference’. BUT NOT ME!”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement: “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. 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 case is important, not just as a public records victory, but because it points to the resilience of dogged journalism.
Vance is investigating whether the Trump Organization falsified business records to conceal hush payments to two women, including porn film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged had affairs with Trump years ago. Trump has denied those claims.
Vance is seeking Trump’s tax returns, among other records. The president has refused to make them public, unlike previous modern presidents.
Separately, three House committees have sought to bypass the president to obtain financial records from his longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, and financial institutions. The committees, all controlled by Democrats, say they are needed to check Trump’s financial disclosures and inform whether conflict-of-interest laws are tough enough.
Lawmakers’ line of investigation is more expansive than the district attorney’s. They have demanded information “about seven business entities, as well as the personal accounts of President Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump,” according to the brief filed by the president’s private lawyers.
The congressional subpoenas followed testimony from Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, who told lawmakers last winter that Trump had exaggerated his wealth to seek loans. Two committees subpoenaed Capital One and Deutsche Bank as part of their investigation into Russian money laundering and potential foreign influence involving Trump.
It is true, the decision by the justices this week likely deprives the American people of vital information they should have going into this fall’s elections. We agree voters deserve to know if Trump is compromised by financial entanglements.
The good news is that the justices rejected some of the president’s most exaggerated arguments about immunity from investigation, especially in the case being investigated by New York prosecutors.
We applaud the court’s decision and — once again — two Trump appointees — Kavanaugh and Gorsuch — thinking well beyond this test of time.
We don’t have all of the facts today, but we are a big step closer to them.