The Slatest

The Supreme Court Agrees to Decide if Trump Has to Turn Over Financial Records

A close-up image of Donald Trump's face.
President Trump’s lawyers have argued that the president is immune from criminal investigations.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear arguments over whether President Donald Trump should have to disclose his financial records to the public. The decision has the potential to set a new precedent on the limits of presidential powers, to deliver a dramatic victory or loss to the president in his conflict over the records with congressional Democrats, and to affect the 2020 election.

Trump’s lawyers have argued—in challenges from three House committees and the Manhattan district attorney—that the requests for Trump’s taxes and other financial documents amounted to politically motivated attacks, and that the president should therefore be protected from investigations into those records. Trump is the only modern president not to have released his tax returns.

In three cases, Trump lost, and he was ordered to turn over the documents in question. In two of them, House committees sought financial records from Trump, his children, and his businesses as part of probes into possible conflicts of interest and foreign influence. Trump’s lawyers described these subpoenas as harassment.

Cy Vance, the Manhattan D.A., separately subpoenaed eight years of Trump’s tax and financial records as part of the state’s investigation into hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. The president’s lawyers, who have argued that Trump enjoys presidential immunity from criminal investigations—not just prosecution—appealed that decision to the Supreme Court as well.

As Dahlia Lithwick wrote for Slate in November, the immediate effect of the court’s decision to take on Trump’s appeal is to delay the ongoing investigations into Trump’s alleged misconduct. The court will come to a decision on the topic in June, which is before the 2020 presidential election, but still several months away, and in terms of a political and news timeline, long after the ongoing impeachment proceedings against the president will have played out. In the long-term, Lithwick wrote that the greater risk to the Supreme Court agreeing to take the case is the possibility of the “dangerous precedent of placing the president above the law.”

The nation’s highest bench has two Trump appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The case will be the first time that Trump’s personal matters will be brought before the Supreme Court.