There are two subpoenas seeking President Donald Trump’s tax returns — one from a New York district attorney, and another from a congressional committee — that the president’s legal team has sought to block. Now, that battle has made its way to the Supreme Court.
The U.K’s Daily Mail reported that President Trump’s legal team has filed a petition of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court following a ruling earlier in November by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with a New York district attorney who has subpoenaed Trump’s state tax returns as part of a criminal investigation into the president.
That investigation is largely centered on allegations that Trump, prior to becoming president, made payments to two women to buy their silence about alleged affairs — namely, former adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
A question of presidential immunity
Though the three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court declined to issue a definitive ruling on a key aspect of the case, at issue is whether the long-understood immunity a president enjoys from prosecution extends to state-level investigations and subpoenas for evidence from third parties — in this case, the accounting firm that possesses Trump’s tax returns.
“Allowing the sitting president to be targeted for criminal investigation — and to be subpoenaed on that basis — would, like an indictment itself, distract him from the numerous and important duties of his office, intrude on and impair Executive Branch operations, and stigmatize the presidency,” top Trump attorney Jay Sekulow argued in the brief filed with the high court.
In essence, Trump’s lawyers have sought to block the subpoenas and shut down the current investigations, arguing that criminal probes at a state or local level are unconstitutional, unprecedented, and under presidential immunity — an argument the lower courts have either avoided or rejected.
The president’s team is hopeful that the Supreme Court will hear their appeal no later than June 2020, and it is noteworthy that the New York district attorney has agreed to refrain from enforcing his subpoena until the courts have made a final determination. It could be up to another month from now before the Supreme Court decides whether to take up the case.
More problems for Trump
Meanwhile, a similar subpoena for Trump’s tax returns has been issued against the same accounting firm — Mazars USA — by the Democrat-controlled House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is also being challenged by the president’s attorneys.
Though the House subpoena doesn’t specifically mention Trump’s tax returns, it demands a wide range of financial documents and records (which would seemingly include the tax returns) as part of an inquiry into the president’s personal and business finances and potential conflicts of interest.
For its part, Mazars USA has stated that it will fully comply with all subpoenas for documents related to Trump once a court has ordered it to do so.
For now, it remains unclear if and when the Supreme Court will take up Trump’s appeal, much less how the court will rule in the case.
But given that two of the nine justices were appointed by President Trump — Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — and that Republican-appointees hold a 5–4 majority, the odds seem to be on Trump’s side.