SCOTUS Orders Halt to Release of Trump Tax Records


If Democrats want to see President Donald Trump’s tax records, they’re going to have to wait a bit longer. Again.

According to The New York Times, the Supreme Court on Monday put a hold on a decision by an appeals court that would have allowed House Democrats to see the president’s tax records under the umbrella of the impeachment inquiry.

The suit was originally filed by the House Oversight and Reform Committee over ethics disclosure forms that did not reveal payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels for a non-disclosure agreement regarding an  alleged sexual encounter between Daniels and Trump. Trump and his legal team have argued the payments were personal in nature and “would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.”

The NDA — referred to as “hush-money payments” by The Times because the newspaper believes if nothing if not objectivity — took on renewed importance for the Democrats in the wake of the impeachment inquiry.

There were also allegations by  Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, that Trump had changed estimates of his personal worth in situations where it might be advantageous to him, like in paying taxes or getting loans.

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Lawyers for the committee told the Supreme Court that in addition to the issues involving the committee’s oversight purview, the “rapidly advancing impeachment inquiry also makes it particularly important that Congress not be deprived of the information sought by the subpoena.”

Trump’s lawyers, meanwhile, said there wasn’t a legitimate purpose under the legislative purview for Congress to get the tax returns.

For a stay to be granted, at least five justices have to agree that, at the very least, the legal issues at play are more complex than the lower court verdict indicated. There were no reasons given for the stay — and there were no dissents, either.

In one sense, the case isn’t going to have much impact on the impeachment inquiry, which would have continued along its allotted course no matter what the court decided.

Do you think Trump should release his tax returns?

In another sense, however, for congressional Democrats who may have wanted to make hay out of Trump’s tax returns, the ruling puts the brakes on any hopes of that in a major way.

The president’s legal team will now have to submit a petition for review by Dec. 5. Depending on how that goes — and if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case — the decision could come as late as next June.

According to The Daily Caller, the committee issued a subpoena to Mazars USA LLP, an accounting firm that handles much of Trump’s work, to hand over his tax documents.

While Mazars agreed, Trump’s team sued to block the subpoena on the grounds there was no “legitimate legislative purpose” to the request. Trump’s lawyers also stated that Congress wasn’t acting in an oversight capacity but instead as a law enforcement agency.

A federal judge in the nation’s capital blocked the attempt to stop the subpoena, as did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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In a 2-1 decision in October, an appeals court panel found that the subpoena was “a valid exercise of the legislative oversight authority because it seeks information important to determining the fitness of legislation to address potential problems within the executive branch.”

It was the second time the Supreme Court has accepted a case involving demands for Trump’s tax returns. In the first case, New York prosecutors are seeking eight years of Trump’s tax returns.

“The case from New York concerns a subpoena from the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat, for eight years of Mr. Trump’s personal and business tax returns in connection with the hush-money payments,” The Times reported.

“A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, ruled this month against Mr. Trump. The court, in a focused ruling, said state prosecutors may require third parties to turn over a sitting president’s financial records for use in a grand jury investigation.

“The New York case involves more ambitious legal arguments. Mr. Trump’s lawyers, in a petition seeking review of the Second Circuit’s decision, said he was immune from criminal investigation while he remained in office.”

The two cases are likely to be considered alongside each other, The Times reported.

The battle over the president’s tax returns has turned quixotic at this point; even if the Democrats manage to break a spear at the windmill, what will they have proved?

Nobody, at this point, is going to make an argument for the inherent morality of the NDA given to Stormy Daniels, nor of similar deals given to other women throughout Trump’s career.

But that last part is the problem for anyone who believes something incriminating lies within the president’s tax returns: He’s done this throughout his career. Anyone who wants to make the point that this was a “campaign expenditure” would also have to argue that this was somehow different from Trump’s modus operandi when dealing with unpleasant situations such as this.

As for the potential secrets that might be hiding within Trump’s tax returns, I hesitate to quote Col. Nathan Jessup given his eventual fate, but I think the basic principle remains: Roll the dice and take your chances.

Rachel Maddow certainly did. Anyone remember that dumpster conflagration?

When #AlCaponesVault is trending on Twitter in response to the fact that a TV host managed to get ahold of an unremarkable tax return, you know that you’ve managed an epic fail.

If the tax returns don’t turn out to be that uneventful, there’s also nothing to indicate they’ll be eventful enough to sway any wide swath of votes — assuming, of course, Congress is in any position to disseminate them.

However, if Democrats were hoping to wield these documents like a political sword — you know, the same way they’ve been doing with impeachment — the court case is certainly a major blow to their hopes.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture