WASHINGTON – The nature of the presidency was examined before the Supreme Court on Tuesday when the judges heard arguments for more than three hours over whether House Committees and Prosecutors could get information about President Trump’s business affairs.
The court’s decision, which is expected by July, may require the disclosure of information that the President has made extraordinary efforts to protect. Or the judges could decide that Mr. Trump’s financial affairs are not a legitimate subject of investigation.
The first argument out of two that the court heard that dealt with Congress investigations seemed better for Mr. Trump. The judges were more skeptical of the president’s case during the second dispute, in which Mr. Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow argued that he was absolutely immune to criminal investigation during his tenure.
There was no question that the questions before the court were significant and consistent – for Mr Trump, for the court and for the separation of powers in the government.
“The subpoenas here are unprecedented in every way,” said Patrick Strawbridge, the lawyer who represents Mr. Trump in cases related to Congress requests.
Several judges contested this, saying that President Richard M. Nixon’s Watergate investigation and President Bill Clinton’s Whitewater investigation provided appropriate analogies. Both presidents have lost unanimous Supreme Court cases in which they have tried to withhold information.
“History and practice play an important role in the separation of powers,” said Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who was appointed court by Mr. Trump.
The judges ‘questions largely reflected their usual inclinations, with the more liberal members of the court expressing skepticism about Mr Trump’s arguments and the more conservative saying they were concerned about opening the door to the partisans’ harassment of the president.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested that the case was somewhat routine. “It sounds like the end of the day,” he said, “this is just another case where the courts balance competing interests.”
Interests that the Supreme Court sought to reconcile include the power of Congress to gather information to inform about legislative decisions and the unique constitutional status of the presidency.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that investigations into foreign influence on American elections were undoubtedly correct. But she and Justice Kavanaugh said the president’s medical records were out of bounds.
Justice Elena Kagan said that in the past, Congress and the President had worked out their differences through informal housing. Well, she said, Mr. Trump asked the court to put a “10 ton weight” on one side of the scale.
Mr Strawbridge replied that “these subpoenas do not meet any sign of a legitimate legislative inquiry”.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the court heard the arguments over the phone, an experiment that started last week. The process went smoothly, with few technical problems, and the public could listen.
Department of Justice attorney Jeffrey B. Wall, who advocated Mr. Trump, made a more limited, but still comprehensive, argument. “You can’t go against the president like you can against an ordinary litigator,” he said. “The potential to harass and undermine the President and the Presidency is profound.”
Douglas N. Letter, the General Counsel of the House of Representatives, said the President’s arguments were astonishing. “History is really important here,” he said.
The key question in the case was whether the House committees had a legitimate legislative need for the information they were looking for.
Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the courts should not question the house’s verdict. “Why shouldn’t we put the House on its own legislative agenda?” She asked.
Judge Clarence Thomas, who was fully involved in the court’s telephone dispute, said the sheer number and breadth of subpoenas was problematic. “At some point,” he said, “this thing is getting out of control.”
In the subpoenas, information was obtained from Mr. Trump’s accountants or bankers, not from Mr. Trump himself, and companies have indicated that they will comply with the court’s decision. Had Mr. Trump’s subpoenas obtained evidence himself, there was at least a chance that he would try to oppose a decision against him, leading to a constitutional crisis.
A subpoena addressed to Mr. Trump’s auditing firm, Mazars USA, was issued by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which said it was investigating hush money payments and whether Mr. Trump had inflated and deflated descriptions of his assets in the annual accounts to get them Loans and reduce his taxes.
When Mr. Trump’s lawyers went to court to try to block the subpoena, they argued that the committee had no legislative need for them. They said the panel was involved in an inappropriate criminal investigation and was not looking for information to legislate.
In October, a three-member jury of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit refused to block the subpoena.
Another series of subpoenas came from the company’s financial and intelligence committees and targeted two financial institutions that did business with Mr. Trump, Deutsche Bank, and Capital One. They were looking for a range of financial records related to the president, his company, and his family.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ordered the disclosure of most of the records. It made an exception for sensitive personal data that is not related to the committee’s investigations.
The first argument lasted more than 30 minutes longer than the assigned hour.
The second argument, which began immediately after the first, was a subpoena from Mr. Trump’s accounting firm from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat. Business and personal tax returns have been sought for eight years in connection with an investigation into the role that Mr Trump and the Trump organization played in the hush money payments made prior to the 2016 elections.
Both Mr. Trump and his company paid former president lawyer and fixer Michael D. Cohen payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had an affair with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Cohen was also involved in payments to Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who also claimed she had a relationship with Mr. Trump. The president denied the relationship.
Mr. Trump sued to prevent his accounting firm from handing over the records, but the lower courts ruled against him. in the In a unanimous decision, the Second Circuit said the prosecutor could require third parties to provide a seated president’s financial records for use in a grand jury investigation.