The Supreme Court's Ruling On Donald Trump's Tax Returns Explained For Brits

Chris York
·4-min read

In a much-anticipated verdict, the US Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that a New York prosecutor can obtain Donald Trump’s financial records, but also decided Democratic-led committees can not.

The mixed verdicts mean the president’s tax returns, banking and other documents will be kept out of the public eye for the time being, possibly until after the presidential election in November.

Trump reacted furiously to the news despite effectively being granted a reprieve.

So what does this all actually mean?

Let’s start with the actual financial records themselves. Donald Trump’s tax returns have long been sought after as they detail all of his financial dealings from before he became president.

Trump’s dealings in property are incredibly murky and there have always been whisperings that he has been propped up in the past with money from Russia.

And being indebted to one of the US’s main geopolitical rivals would obviously pose a serious conflict of interest for the president.

These whisperings have been given further weight by the fact that the only bank that was willing to lend Trump money after he became bankrupt was Deutsche Bank, which was fined $630 million in 2017 for Russian money laundering.

In short, they could be pretty juicy.

(Photo: REUTERS)
(Photo: REUTERS)

The president has of course always denied this but at the same time has gone to extreme lengths to keep his tax returns private, even though in modern times it has been the norm for the sitting president to release them.

Who is after his financial records?

Pretty much everyone but the ones we’re talking about today are a grand jury investigation in New York and three Democratic-led committees.

The New York investigation into Trump and the Trump Organisation was sparked by disclosures of hush payments to two women who said they had past sexual relationships with him, pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

It wants access to the records, which include tax returns, as part of this investigation.

The House Oversight Committee is in charge of keeping the president in check and in April 2019 asked for the financial information in response to the congressional testimony of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer.

Cohen said Trump had inflated and deflated certain assets on financial statements between 2011 and 2013 in part to reduce his real estate taxes.

Separately, the House Financial Services Committee has been examining possible money laundering in US property deals involving Trump and is investigating whether Trump’s dealings left him vulnerable to the influence of foreign individuals or governments.

Why has Trump said they shouldn’t have them?

In the New York case, Trump’s lawyers argued that under the Constitution he is immune from any criminal proceeding while serving as president. They also cited Justice Department guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted.

In a lower court hearing, Trump’s lawyers went so far as to argue that law enforcement officials would not have the power to investigate Trump even if he shot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Again it should be pointed out that every sitting president in recent history has released their tax returns – it’s not a big deal so the fact Trump and his lawyers are going to such lengths to keep them secret raises some eyebrows.

What did the Supreme Court say?

The justices rejected arguments by Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department that the president is immune from investigation while he holds office or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the records.

By seven votes to two, the justices upheld the Manhattan district attorney’s demand for Trump’s tax returns but kept a hold on financial records that the committees have been seeking for more than a year.

So when do we get to see them?

Because the grand jury process is confidential, the rulings make it unlikely any of Trump’s financial records will become public soon, and almost certainly not before they could have an effect on November’s election.

The ruling returns the case to lower courts, with no clear prospect for when the case might ultimately be resolved.

Head of the New York investigation, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr said his probe, on hold while the court fight played out, will now resume.

“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.”

So in short, watch this space...

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.