A listener’s guide to the historic Supreme Court arguments over whether Trump can keep his tax records secret….
A landmark clash over presidential power and the rule of law is coming to a streaming device near you on 5/12/2020.
Attorneys for President Donald Trump will finally face off against Democrats in the House of Representatives and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., before the nation’s highest court on Tuesday in a set of cases that raise questions at the heart of America’s system of justice.
The cases, over whether Trump can keep his tax records secret.
As a result of the spreading coronavirus, the court has closed its building to the public. Arguments, conducted over the phone, will be streamed live.
How can you listen?
The arguments will begin promptly at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday and will be available for streaming on CNBC.com and the CNBC app. They will last at least two hours.
The day will be divided into two argument sessions, each lasting about an hour.
The first argument involves two cases in which Democratic-led congressional committees issued subpoenas seeking the president’s financial records from his banks and accounting firm. The second argument relates to similar subpoenas issued by the Manhattan district attorney, who is a Democrat, to the president’s business and accounting firm.
What are the cases about?
The basic question underlying both arguments is “whether governmental agencies can investigate potential wrongdoing by a sitting president,” according to Sarah Harrington, one of the most experienced Supreme Court lawyers in the country and a partner at the law firm Goldstein & Russell.
David Cole, the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that what is at stake in the cases are “two of the most fundamental principles of the American constitutional system. Checks and balances on the one hand, and the rule of law and the notion that no one is above the law on the other.”
First argument: A clash with Congress
The two congressional cases involve investigations being carried out by Democratic-led committees in the House of Representatives into the president’s personal financial dealings.
In one case, the House Oversight Committee is looking into claims made by the president’s former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen, who testified before the committee last year that Trump inflated and deflated his assets “when it served his purposes.”
The committee is also investigating why Trump didn’t include on his 2017 financial disclosure form a $130,000 hush money payment he owed to the adult film star Stormy Daniels. Cohen facilitated the payment in the run up to the 2016 election, and the Office of Government Ethics has said that Trump should have listed the debt as a liability.
As part of its investigation, the committee issued a subpoena in April 2019 to the president’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, seeking all “statements of financial condition, annual statements, periodic financial reports, and independent auditors’ reports prepared, compiled, reviewed, or audited” by the company related to Trump and his businesses.
The second case from Congress involves subpoenas issued by the the intelligence and financial services committees to the president’s primary lenders, Capital One and Deutsche Bank, for financial records related to Trump and his family members.
The leaders of those committees have said that they are looking into “questionable financing” that Trump and his businesses received before he became president. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has said the investigation entails uncovering whether “any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.”
Second argument: Can Trump be investigated?
The second argument the justices will hear on Tuesday involves subpoenas sent to the Trump Organization and Mazars by Vance, the Manhattan district attorney.
Like the House Oversight Committee, Vance is also pursuing an investigation into the hush money payments Trump made to two women ahead of the 2016 election.
In August 2019, his office asked the Trump Organization for documents related to the hush money payments produced between 2015 and 2018. Later that month, Vance asked Mazars for a wide variety of Trump’s personal and business records, including tax returns, dating back to 2011.
Vance has said he is investigating whether there was a violation of New York state law — though he hasn’t said whether Trump himself is a suspect, or indicated any potential charges.