Supreme Courts Grants Trump's Request To Temporarily Block Release Of His Tax Records

Nov 26, 2019
Originally published on November 27, 2019 9:44 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To the latest now on the president's financial records and whether we will ever get to see them. Yesterday, the Supreme Court put a hold on enforcing a congressional subpoena of the president's records. This hold is temporary. It is to allow Trump's lawyers time to file briefs with the court, justifying why they think it should hear the case. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is here.

Hi, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So two cases in play, right? What's going on?

TOTENBERG: Well, one case is from New York. The lower courts have upheld a grand jury subpoena for records related to hush money paid to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election campaign. The subpoena is not directed at Trump but at his longtime accounting firm. Now, the firm hasn't objected to turning over the documents. And if this were anyone else, the firm would have already done that. But the president objects that he is different because he's president. And in the second case, the lower courts have ruled that the House Oversight Committee was within its rights when it subpoenaed financial records from the same accounting firm. The committee's justification is that it's trying to determine whether legislation is needed to require presidents in the future to disclose their taxes. Every modern president has done that voluntarily, but Trump has refused to do so and now is asking the Supreme Court to block enforcement of the congressional subpoena.

KELLY: OK. So for the court, the options are - what? It could hear both cases. It could hear just one. What might happen?

TOTENBERG: It could hear either one or none of them. If it hears none of them, that means the president would be out of luck. The lower court decisions would stand, and his accounting firm would have to comply. Now, my opinion on this is not worth much. But luckily...

KELLY: (Laughter) I would beg to differ, but go on.

TOTENBERG: I moderated a program at the Council on Foreign Relations last week that featured two former solicitors general, the government's chief advocates in the Supreme Court. Neal Katyal had the job for President Obama - and argues a lot of cases now - and Paul Clement had the SG's job in the George W. Bush administration. He is, I think it's fair to say, the leading advocate for conservative causes in the Supreme Court today. So I asked these two very experienced lawyers who come at this from different political perspectives what they think the court will do. Katyal said he thought the court would not agree to hear these cases at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEAL KATYAL: They're probably pretty happy with the careful reasoning by the two lower court opinions. The Trump briefs, I think, are pretty extreme in their legal views and so I think might be better for the court to just stay out altogether and let the process unfold.

TOTENBERG: But Clement said he thinks there's a decent chance the court will review at least one of the cases, probably the congressional subpoena case.

KELLY: OK. And did they have any predictions in terms of where the court might land?

TOTENBERG: Well, when you're talking about the Supreme Court, nothing is a sure bet. But both men thought the president likely would lose. Both Clement and Katyal observed that all the precedents are against the president. Clement said the court might well take a Trump case here out of deference to the institution of the presidency.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL CLEMENT: But I think if they did, it would be a mistake to view the fact that they took the case as a precursor to them ultimately ruling in favor of President Trump. You know, the president's argument, it's a tough one. Maybe an uphill one would be the right way to describe it.

KELLY: And in terms of process, Nina, you don't need the full court to rule on this. You don't need 5 out of 9. You just need...

TOTENBERG: No, you need four.

KELLY: Four, OK - so do we have a timeline on this? When might the decision come?

TOTENBERG: Well, the court is already fast-tracking the briefing, which means they're going to expedite the cases, or a case, if they decide to hear one of them. And we'd probably get a decision in June just when the presidential campaign is heating up.

KELLY: Ah, never a dull moment. But it sounds like bottom line for now, President Trump remains the only president for decades who's not released his tax records.

TOTENBERG: As usual, you're right, Mary Louise.

KELLY: (Laughter) We will end it there. Say no more. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, thank you.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.