The US Supreme Court handed down a pair of 7-2 decisions this morning about who can see the president's financial records, both written by Chief Justice John Roberts, and both dissented by Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
In the first, Trump v Vance, private citizen Donald Trump appealed a decision of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a district court order to Trump's accountants to hand over documents to a grand jury empaneled by New York City District Attorny Cyrus Vance, Jr. Citing precedents going back to Aaron Burr's treason trial in 1807, the Court affirmed the lower court order, holding: "Article II and the Supremacy Clause do not categorically preclude, or require a heightened standard for, the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting President." Trump appointees Kavanaugh and Gorsuch concurred, but said the lower court should "how to balance the State’s interests and the Article II interests." Thomas, dissenting, agrees "with the majority that the President does not have absolute immunity from the issuance of a grand jury subpoena," but "he may be entitled to relief against its enforcement" (emphasis in original). Alito, consistent with his expansive views on presidential authority, believes a state prosecutor has no authority even to investigate a sitting president for state crimes, even if the alleged conduct occurred before the person was president.
Just a few minutes later, the Court announced its decision in Trump v Mazars, vacating the DC District and Circuit Courts decisions granting the House of Representatives authority to subpoena the president's financial records from his accounting firm, holding "[t]he courts below did not take adequate account of the significant separation of powers concerns implicated by congressional subpoenas for the President’s information." Roberts distinguished this case from Vance and others, writing:
This case is different. Here the President’s information is sought not by prosecutors or private parties in connection with a particular judicial proceeding, but by committees of Congress that have set forth broad legislative objectives. Congress and the President—the two political branches established by the Constitution—have an ongoing relationship that the Framers intended to feature both rivalry and reciprocity.
When Congress seeks information “needed for intelligent legislative action,” it “unquestionably” remains “the duty of all citizens to cooperate.” Watkins, 354 U. S., at 187 (emphasis added). Congressional subpoenas for information from the President, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers. The courts below did not take adequate account of those concerns.
Again, Alito and Thomas dissented. Thomas would reverse the decision rather than vacate it, because he "would hold that Congress has no power to issue a legislative subpoena for private, nonofficial documents—whether they belong to the President or not. Congress may be able to obtain these documents as part of an investigation of the President, but to do so, it must proceed under the impeachment power." Given that the President stonewalled Congress during the impeachment earlier this year, and the Supreme Court essentially said that's Congress's problem, not ours, Thomas would essentially hold the president immune from any discovery process. Alito agrees with Thomas to some extent, but believes "legislative subpoenas for a President’s personal documents are inherently suspicious," and would require Congress to "provide a description of the type of legislation being considered," which they did, but apparently not to Alito's satisfaction.
The president's response was as measured and thoughtful as one might expect:
He has spent the last hour whining like a spoiled toddler narcissistic, demented old man about this.
Sadly, none of this information will come out before the election. Once he's out of office in January, however, expect that his businesses will not survive long in their present forms. I really can't wait to see what he's been hiding.