US Supreme Court rules for handover of Trump tax returns

The US Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that Donald Trump’s financial records be turned over to prosecutors in New York, dealing a blow to a president who has broken with decades of tradition by keeping his tax returns secret.

The 7-2 ruling gave the green light for the Manhattan district attorney’s office to obtain financial records held by Mr Trump’s accountant, Mazars USA.

But in a second case, the high court in another 7-2 decision temporarily blocked similar subpoenas issued by Congress, saying they should be reviewed again by the courts.

Mr Trump’s appointees to the court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were in the majority in both cases.

Chief Justice John Roberts, delivering the court’s majority opinion in the Manhattan case, said: “Two hundred years ago, a great jurist of our Court established that no citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding.

“We reaffirm that principle today and hold that the president is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need.”

Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance 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.”

The court also sent the Manhattan DA’s subpoenas back down for additional proceedings, raising the possibility Mr Trump could raise further objections

Mr Trump tweeted shortly after the decision: “This is all a political prosecution . . . Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!”

The president, a real estate tycoon and reality television star, came into office with an international business empire that has drawn claims he could be susceptible to influence peddling by foreign governments and questions about whether Russian money had flowed into his companies.

Mr Trump did not divest his holdings when he became president, instead moving his assets into a trust. His two sons continue to run the Trump Organization, which operates a hotel in Washington among other locations. The president frequently visits his properties to play golf and at times host foreign leaders.

Three committees in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives had subpoenaed years of records relating to Mr Trump, his businesses and his family from Deutsche Bank, Capital One and Mazars.

Deutsche Bank has financed many of Mr Trump’s business ventures in recent decades. The German lender opened its doors to Mr Trump in the late 1990s even as many US banks stopped dealing with his businesses after defaults on loans in several high-profile instances.

The congressional committees said they needed the information to consider legislation on foreign influence over US elections, foreign money laundering and conflicts of interest.

Mr Vance subpoenaed records from Mazars for an ongoing grand jury investigation related to the Trump Organization, the New York-based family business.

Mr Vance is investigating payments made in 2016 to two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr Trump, who has denied the affairs and any wrongdoing. The president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty in 2018 in federal court to campaign finance violations stemming from the payments.

Mr Trump sued to block Deutsche Bank, Capital One and Mazars from turning over the records. His lawyers argued that the subpoenas constituted harassment on the part of Congress, and that a sitting president should be immune from any sort of criminal process, such as the Manhattan district attorney’s subpoena.

Most of the judges who previously heard Mr Trump’s arguments have responded with scepticism, even apparent disdain at times, as they repeatedly ruled against him at the district and appeals court level.

The Department of Justice has supported the president through the litigation but adopted a narrower position at the Supreme Court, arguing that the subpoenas should be subject to a higher level of scrutiny because they involve a sitting president.