President Donald Trump’s financial records can remain under wraps while the Supreme Court hears three cases to keep them hidden from prosecutors in New York and Congress, the justices said Friday. The order gives the president a temporary win as he tries to withhold personal information from the public during his reelection campaign.
Lower courts had consistently ruled against the president, but those decisions will remain on hold for now.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the cases in its March 2020 session, the orders said.
The three major lawsuits over Trump’s financial records — including his tax forms, which he declined to make public during his last presidential campaign — test the rights of sitting presidents to stonewall investigations from prosecutors and congressional lawmakers alike.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the courts have "repeatedly reaffirmed the Congress’s authority to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people," and that, "unfortunately, the American people will now have to wait several more months for final rulings."
The lawsuits were filed before the Trump impeachment probe began and are unrelated to his actions toward Ukraine.
The first case began when New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance subpoenaed Trump’s private accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP, to obtain the president’s personal financial records. Vance’s office has indicated the investigation relates to alleged hush-money payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with the president, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Trump filed a complaint in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2019 to block the subpoena.
Trump claimed that sitting presidents are immune from criminal prosecution and cannot be sued in a state court. US District Court Judge Victor Marrero cited a legal doctrine known as “abstention,” saying he lacked jurisdiction in the case. But nevertheless, his ruling said Trump’s argument was too weak and “would constitute an overreach of executive power,” particularly given that the records are held by a third party, not the president himself.
After his initial defeat, Trump took his case to the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which ruled against Trump again. A panel of judges said that while the abstention doctrine did not apply, the lower court was correct about the subpoena: Prosecutors can legally seize Trump’s records. Trump proceeded to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in.
In the second case, the Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit from Trump to block a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee, controlled by Democrats, for the personal financial records held by Mazars LLP. The House demanded the documents after one of the president’s personal lawyers, Michael Cohen, said in February 2019 that “Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes ... and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”
In trying to challenge Democrats, Trump told a federal court in Washington, DC, that the committee was attempting a law-enforcement function beyond its constitutional jurisdiction. But the lawmakers successfully argued the subpoena’s goals were legislative and, therefore, legal. A divided panel of judges at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed and upheld the lower court’s decision, saying that the mere possibility records could reveal a crime did not make the request for records an inherent law-enforcement action.
The third case raises a similar question to the second: Can Congress demand the president’s personal documents and records from his private companies? It arose after the House’s Financial Services and Intelligence Committees issued subpoenas in April 2019 for records about Trump, his family, and business entities — including up to a decade of tax returns — held by Deutsche Bank, a primary lender to Trump and his businesses. Meanwhile, the House Financial Services Committee subpoenaed Trump’s records from Capital One. The records are likely to include details of Trump’s actual wealth, business arrangements, and financial partners.
Trump sued in his personal capacity, saying the subpoenas exceeded Congress’ legislative powers, but he lost at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit largely agreed. The court said Trump must comply, but said the lower court must first consider if some potentially sensitive personal records can be held. The court said that process could begin by Dec. 10, but the Supreme Court, at Trump’s request, put that order on hold while it considers the merits of the case.