US supreme court rules prosecutors can obtain Donald Trump’s financial records

In win for president, records set to remain secret for now as Congress blocked from accessing them

US president Donald Trump: Financial records will remain private for now, as litigation continues. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

US president Donald Trump: Financial records will remain private for now, as litigation continues. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

 

The supreme court on Thursday ruled that US president Donald Trump’s financial advisers must hand over his financial records to a New York court, but sent the case back to a lower court for consideration, granting the president a significant reprieve.

The ruling – one of two issued by the supreme court on Thursday relating to Mr Trump’s tax records – means that Mr Trump’s financial records will remain private for now, as litigation continues.

In a strongly-worded opinion, the court by a 7-2 majority said that a New York prosecutor investigating Mr Trump has the right to see the president’s documents.

“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,” the majority opinion said.

“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.”

But the court sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings “where the President may raise constitutional and legal objections to the state grand jury subpoena as appropriate”.

The second ruling blocked Congress from securing access to his records, also sending that case to a district court. That case related to efforts by several Democratic-controlled committees in Congress to subpoena documents related to Mr Trump’s financial affairs from accountancy firm Mazars and his bankers Deutsche Bank and Capitol First.

Since the party won control of the House of Representatives after the 2018 midterm elections, various House committees have been investigating Donald Trump’s financial dealings.

‘Political witch-hunt’

Speaking in the White House on Thursday, Mr Trump described a “political witch hunt” against him. “Just like the Mueller investigation was a hoax that I won, and this is another hoax. This is purely political.”

In an apparent reference to the case involving the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Mr Trump claimed that New York is a “hellhole”, adding: “They’d better do something about it because people are leaving New York.”

The ruling in the New York case was welcomed by Manhattan prosecutor Cyrus Vance, who said he will press on with the investigation. Mr Vance is investigating the payment of hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels, and whether Mr Trump’s repayment of funds to his then attorney Michael Cohen broke any business laws.

“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,” he said. “Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume, guided as always by the grand jury’s solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead.”

Mr Trump’s two appointees to the supreme court – Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh – sided with the majority opinion in both cases.