by Katherine Sullivan, ProPublica.org
The Supreme Court finally ruled on whether Congress and investigators can obtain the president’s financial information. The answer is yes — but it’s a little more complicated than that.
The Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated decisions yesterday in two cases concerning oversight, presidential immunity, and the balance of powers. Both cases address whether subpoenas seeking financial information about President Donald Trump’s business dealings, including his personal tax returns, can be enforced.
The court held in one case that subpoenas in a criminal investigation into Trump’s business dealings by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance can be enforced.
The court’s decision in the second case, concerning congressional subpoenas to the president’s shadowy longtime accounting firm, was more complex. That case will go back down to lower courts with a four-pronged test created by Chief Justice John Roberts that aims to preserve Congress’ authority to conduct oversight while ensuring they don’t abuse those powers.
“Trump, Inc.” co-hosts Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz spoke with Melissa Murray, a law professor at NYU, about the decisions. Here are their takeaways:
- We won’t see the president’s tax returns before the election. Trump can still try to fight Vance’s subpoenas on more specific grounds, and in the end the documents would only go to a grand jury, not the public. And while the court upheld Congress’ right to subpoena documents from the president, there is little chance this back and forth will be settled by November.
- The Supreme Court’s decision may not have really settled the question of congressional oversight. On one hand, the court unequivocally affirmed that the president can be investigated by Congress. At the same time, it did not spell out exactly how Congress should conduct such oversight. While Roberts’ four-part test seems straightforward, it’s going to involve a lot of judgment in practice.
- The real winner isn’t President Trump or Congress. “The real winner here is Chief Justice John Roberts, who’s managed to keep this court out of the political fray,” said Murray. “He has effectively, with both of these decisions, steered the court through a really treacherous course that could have been a polarizing mess for the court to wade into, and he’s done it in advance of what will likely be one of the most polarizing elections of the modern age.”
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