Pres­i­dent Trump asks Supreme Court to shield tax re­turns from investigat­ors

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By David G. Sav­age

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump asked the Supreme Court on Thurs­day to shield him from a New York grand jury’s de­mand to see his tax re­turns and other fi­nan­cial records, set­ting the stage for a con­sti­tu­tional clash over whether the pres­i­dent has an “ab­so­lute im­mu­nity” from be­ing in­ves­ti­gated or pros­e­cuted.

It is the first of two ap­peals from Trump that seek to pro­tect his tax re­turns from investigat­ors. The House Over­sight Com­mit­tee has been seek­ing the same records, and on Wed­nes­day, the full U.S. ap­peals court in Wash­ing­ton re­fused to block the sub­poena. Trump’s lawyers said they would ap­peal that case as well.

The jus­tices are not re­quired to hear Trump’s ap­peal or to de­cide the cases. But the pair of ap­peals when put to­gether raise sig­nif­i­cant ques­tions about the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers and whether the pres­i­dent has a privacy right to shield his per­sonal records from con­gres­sional investigat­ors or state pros­e­cu­tors.

If the jus­tices vote to hear Trump’s plea, it could re­sult in a ma­jor elec­tion-year rul­ing on whether a pres­i­dent is above the law while in of­fice.

The Supreme Court has never be­fore said the pres­i­dent was im­mune or shielded from all in­ves­ti­ga­tions while in of­fice. How­ever, the Con­sti­tu­tion says the pres­i­dent may be re­moved from of­fice only through im­peach­ment by the House and a con­vic­tion in the Senate.

The New York pros­e­cu­tors who sought the tax re­turns are ex­pected to file a re­sponse within 10 days. Mean­while, Trump’s lawyers are ex­pected to move quickly to ap­peal the rul­ing in­volv­ing House investigat­ors. The jus­tices may take some time to de­cide on what to do.

The New York probe does not con­cern Trump’s ac­tions as pres­i­dent. Rather,

Dis­trict At­tor­ney Cyrus Vance Jr. is said to be in­ves­ti­gat­ing “hush-money” pay­ments to two women, one a porn star and other a for­mer Play­boy model. As part of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the grand jury sought eight years of the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s fi­nan­cial records from Mazars USA, its ac­count­ing firm, in­clud­ing Trump’s per­sonal tax re­turns.

Even if the grand jury’s sub­poena is up­held and Mazars com­plies with the or­der, it does not mean Trump’s tax re­turns will be made pub­lic. The grand jury op­er­ates un­der a rule of con­fi­den­tial­ity.

None­the­less, Trump’s lawyers went to fed­eral court, seek­ing to block the or­der while the pres­i­dent is in of­fice. William Consovoy, a pri­vate at­tor­ney for Trump, re­lied on what he called a “tem­po­rary ab­so­lute pres­i­den­tial im­mu­nity.” In re­sponse to a ques­tion from one lower court judge, the at­tor­ney ar­gued last month that Trump should be shielded from an­swer­ing ques­tions even if the pres­i­dent shot some­one on Fifth Av­enue in New York. Dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump once fa­mously said he was so pop­u­lar among his base that he could shot some­one on Fifth Av­enue and not lose sup­port.

A fed­eral dis­trict judge and a three-judge panel of the 2nd Cir­cuit Court flatly re­jected the claim of im­mu­nity. The judges pointed out that be­gin­ning with Thomas

Jef­fer­son in 1807, pres­i­dents have been re­quired to re­spond to court or­ders seek­ing doc­u­ments. In the most fa­mous case, Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon was re­quired by the Supreme Court in a unan­i­mous 1974 de­ci­sion to turn over to pros­e­cu­tors his White House tape record­ings.

Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton was re­quired to an­swer ques­tions un­der oath in re­sponse to a civil suit over a sex­ual ha­rass­ment claim. He too had suf­fered unan­i­mous de­feat at the Supreme Court in 1997 when he sought a tem­po­rary im­mu­nity while in of­fice.

Cit­ing the ex­am­ple of Nixon’s Oval Of­fice con­ver­sa­tions, the 2nd Cir­cuit Court said Trump and his lawyers failed to “ex­plain why, if ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege did not pre­clude en­force­ment of the sub­poena is­sued in Nixon, the Mazars sub­poena must be en­joined de­spite seek­ing no priv­i­leged in­for­ma­tion and bear­ing no re­la­tion to the pres­i­dent’s per­for­mance of his of­fi­cial func­tions.”

Jus­tice De­part­ment lawyers have long main­tained the pres­i­dent is not sub­ject to crim­i­nal prose­cu­tion while on of­fice. The Supreme Court has not ruled di­rectly on that is­sue.

YURI GRIPAS/ABACAPRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ar­rives to de­liver re­marks in the East Room of the White House in Wash­ing­ton on Nov. 6.

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