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Explainer: What you need to know about Trump's battle with New York over his financial record

  • Lawrence Hurley and Matt Scuffham

    Reuters

Washington, United States   /   Fri, July 10, 2020   /   02:30 pm
Explainer: What you need to know about Trump's battle with New York over his financial record President Donald Trump and first Lady Melania Trump walk out to an event on the South Lawn of the White House on July 04, 2020 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Tasos Katopodis)

A US Supreme Court ruling on Thursday allowed the chief Manhattan prosecutor to obtain the financial records of President Donald Trump from third parties.

Here is what you need to know:

What is the case?

The case concerns a subpoena issued to Trump's longtime accounting firm Mazars LLP for the president's financial records, including tax returns. It was issued as part of a grand jury investigation into the Republican Trump carried out by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr, a Democrat.

Unlike other recent presidents, Trump has refused to disclose his tax returns and other materials that would shed light on the scope of his wealth. The content of these records has remained a persistent mystery even as he seeks re-election.

What is the New York prosecutor investigating?

In September 2019 Vance sought nearly a decade of tax returns, part of a criminal investigation that began in 2018 into Trump and the Trump Organization, the president's family real estate business. It was prompted by disclosures of hush payments made to two women who said they had past sexual relationships with him - pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump and his aides have denied the relationships.

What did the court rule?

In a 7-2 opinion authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, the court ruled that the subpoena asking Mazars LLP to turn over financial records to a grand jury as part of a criminal investigation can be enforced.

The ruling does not mean the documents will be handed over immediately because of expected wrangling in lower courts. A final outcome could be delayed until after the Nov. 3 election in which Trump is seeking a second term in office.

Trump's argument that he was immune from any criminal process "runs up against the 200 years of precedent establishing that Presidents, and their official communications, are subject to judicial process," Roberts wrote.

"We affirm 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," Roberts added.

Roberts also rejected the suggestion that the decision would subject future presidents to harassment by local prosecutors, noting that the court in 1997 rejected a similar argument made by President Bill Clinton when he faced a civil lawsuit brought by Paula Jones, a woman who accused him of making unwanted sexual advances.

"Given these safeguards and the court's precedents, we cannot conclude that absolute immunity is necessary or appropriate," Roberts wrote.