Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Trump Subpoena Cases | WYPR

Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Trump Subpoena Cases

Dec 13, 2019
Originally published on December 16, 2019 1:53 pm

Updated at 6:35 p.m. ET

The U.S. Supreme Court said late Friday that it will review three lower court decisions upholding congressional and grand jury subpoenas for financial records from President Trump's longtime personal accountants and from banks he did business with.

The high court's order sets the stage for a constitutional battle over the limits of presidential power.

All three involve Trump's personal and business finances, not anything he has done as president. Trump has lost all three cases in the lower courts, and in each case, Trump's private attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court.

Even though the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve two articles of impeachment Friday against Trump, none of these cases involve the conduct at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

First, there's a subpoena for Trump's longtime accountants, Mazars USA, issued by a grand jury in New York investigating alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and other women during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mazars USA has not objected to providing the material, but Trump sued to block his accountants from complying with the subpoena.

The second case involves a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee that was looking into whether there is a need to enact legislation compelling all presidents in the future to make public their tax returns. In addition, the committee is seeking to close what it considers other ethical loopholes in the law with regard to a president's business activities.

Trump is the only president in the modern era to have refused to make public his tax returns. For nearly a half century it has been standard for presidents to release their tax returns.

The third case involves two banks that did extensive business with Trump, Deutsche Bank and Capital One, including providing him loans during his repeated bankruptcies. The subpoenas to these banks came from the House Financial Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee.

They were looking into possible connections to Russian money laundering.

The Supreme Court has scheduled an hour of argument on the grand jury subpoena issue; the two two cases, centering on congressional subpoenas, will be heard together for an hour. The arguments are set for March. A decision is expected by June, just in time for the presidential campaign to be moving into high gear.

Some leading conservative Supreme Court advocates have suggested that these cases are low-hanging fruit, so to speak. They could be a way for the high court to show that it is not just in the pocket of a Republican president.

On the other hand, some of the justices have strong feelings about protecting the president, any president, from constant harassment; Justice Brett Kavanaugh being the most recent. His writing before joining the Supreme Court proposed that Congress enact a bill to give presidents immunity while in office.

But recall, in 1997 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, finding that the president — just like any other citizen — does not have immunity from civil suits.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Supreme Court is about to wade into the battle over President Trump's tax returns. Late today, the court said it will review lower court decisions that have upheld congressional and grand jury subpoenas for financial records from President Trump's longtime personal accountants and the banks he did business with. The decision sets the stage for a constitutional battle over the limits of presidential power. Joining us in studio is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Hey there, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there, Audie.

CORNISH: The court seems to do things basically on a Friday night, right?

TOTENBERG: That's what they've been doing lately.

CORNISH: So what exactly did the court do this evening?

TOTENBERG: Well, these cases all involve President Trump's personal finances, not anything he's done as president. And in each case, Trump lost in the lower courts, and his private attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court. And I should note that even though the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve two articles of impeachment today against Trump, none of these cases involves the conduct at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

CORNISH: Walk us through what these cases would involve.

TOTENBERG: Well, first, there's a subpoena for Trump's long-time accountants issued by a grand jury in New York that's investigating alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and other women during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The second big case involves a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee that was looking into whether there's a need to enact legislation compelling all presidents in the future to make public their tax returns. And in addition, the committee is seeking to close what they consider other ethics loopholes in the law involving presidential business activities. Trump, of course, is the only president in the modern era to have kept his taxes secret.

The third case involves two banks that did extensive business with Trump, including providing him loans during his repeated bankruptcies, Deutsche Bank and Capital One. The subpoenas to these banks came from the House Financial Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee. They were looking into possible connections to Russian money laundering. And in all three of these cases, the subpoenas were upheld by the lower courts.

CORNISH: How soon will the court hear these cases?

TOTENBERG: Well, they've set an hour of argument in March, and I would expect a decision probably in June, just in time for the presidential campaign to be moving into high gear.

CORNISH: Now, five of the nine justices on the court at this point are Republican appointees. All are quite conservative. What does this tell us about the potential of the outcome here?

TOTENBERG: I'm not sure it tells us much. Some conservative Supreme Court advocates that I've talked to think these cases really are low-hanging fruit, so to speak, and a way for the court to show that it's not just in the pockets of a Republican - in the pocket of a Republican president. On the other hand, some of the justices have strong feelings about protecting the president, any president, from what they view as constant harassment, Brett Kavanaugh among them.

And lastly, of course, remember that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case involving President Clinton, that the president, just like any other citizen, does not have immunity from civil lawsuits.

CORNISH: That's NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Thank you much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.