(USAToday) – The Supreme Court temporarily blocked congressional investigators Thursday from gaining access to President Donald Trump’s personal financial records.
The 7-2 decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Trump’s two nominees, Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. It sends the separation of powers dispute back to lower courts for further determination.
“Courts must perform a careful analysis that takes adequate account of the separation of powers principles at stake, including both the significant legislative interests of Congress and the ‘unique position’ of the president,” Roberts wrote.
The ruling was one of two issued Thursday regarding whether investigators will have access to Trump’s financial records. In the other, the court ruled 7-2 that Trump cannot keep tax and financial records from a Manhattan prosecutor investigating alleged hush-money payments.
Both carry political as well as legal and constitutional implications for the president and Congress, where House Democrats have argued the records could reveal evidence of criminal wrongdoing or lead to new legislation on Capitol Hill.
The president, acting through his personal legal team, has refused to comply with subpoenas from three House committees seeking information from his accountant and bankers. On Thursday, he called it “a political prosecution.”
During oral arguments held by telephone in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, conservative and liberal justices alike wondered how to balance Congress’ oversight powers against the president’s claim of a need to be free from distracting, even harassing, probes.
In previous separation-of-powers battles over documents or testimony, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Presidents Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1997, with their court nominees in agreement. The decisions led eventually to Nixon’s resignation and Clinton’s impeachment, though he was not ultimately removed from office by the Senate.
The legal battle pits Trump against three House committees controlled by Democrats that have issued subpoenas for eight years of financial documents. Lawmakers claim the records will help determine the need for future legislation in areas such as campaign finance law, bank loan practices, and efforts to prevent foreign influence in elections.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a subpoena to Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm, more than a year ago seeking financial records from the president, his family business, a trust and the company that runs Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. Thus far, two federal courts have upheld the subpoena.
Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress that as a private citizen, Trump routinely overstated or understated his holdings for financial gain. The panel wants to compare eight years of financial documents to Cohen’s testimony and government disclosures.
The House Financial Services Committee and the House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Capital One more than a year ago seeking records from Trump, his three oldest children and the Trump Organization. The panels are probing risky lending practices by major financial institutions and efforts by Russia to influence U.S. elections. They, too, have been upheld twice in lower courts.