The celebrations by Donald Trump’s opponents may be premature. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling that he is not above the law as it applies to every other American, his tax returns probably won’t be made public before the presidential election in November.
The Court rejected, 7-2, Trump’s request that prosecutors should meet a higher than usual standard in seeking to force production of a president’s personal papers. The result is that the New York attorney general, Cyrus Vance, can move forward with grand jury subpoenas for Trump’s tax returns and other financial records. There may have to be a further ruling, by a lower court, on these subpoenas — allowing the President’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, to make a none-too-credible claim of victory today. Of more importance is the fact that even when Trump’s returns do finally make their way to a grand jury, the proceedings will be in secret (as for all grand juries).
Vance wanted these records because of allegations made by Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, now in jail. Cohen accused Trump of trying to make the Trump businesses foot the bill for paying off the porn star Stormy Daniels. Vance calls this fraud. Trump tweeted this morning that Vance’s actions were: ‘PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT!’ and ‘PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!’ Perhaps the records might finally be produced at any trial — but that is a long way off.
The Supreme Court also sent a case about congressional subpoenas for Trump’s financial records back to a lower court. This may, in fact, be the more significant case. The House Oversight Committee wants to see records from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars, and from two banks, Deutsche and Capital One. As someone who’s investigated Trump for many years told me: ‘That’s where the good stuff is.’ Why did these banks loan him money when no one else would, after his companies filed for bankruptcy four times? The paperwork his accountants produced to show his creditworthiness may tell us even more than his tax return about whether Trump is really a billionaire.
There is also the question of whether these loans be traced back to Russian sources. Trump’s enemies hope that they can. Some even imagine that Deutsche was somehow indemnified for its Trump loans by a Russian state bank controlled by the Kremlin. The Russia story had faded from public view somewhat in recent months, because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it may come roaring back.
Trump continues to vent about ‘Russiagate’. After today’s ruling he tweeted: ‘This is all a political prosecution. I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!…’ But the strange and nagging question of why the President and Russia is back on the agenda — will Trump’s financial records have anything to say on the matter? After November, we may find out.