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Supreme Court To Rule On Trump Tax Records

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A blockbuster Supreme Court term is coming to an end today. Over the past two weeks, the court has delivered opinions on abortion, LGBTQ rights, religious freedom. But the justices have yet to rule on cases involving President Trump's tax returns and finances. So we're still expecting those rulings. And let's talk about that with NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So one of the cases here involves the president and a criminal investigation by a grand jury in New York City. Just remind us what that's all about.

JOHNSON: Sure. The first case covers a subpoena from a grand jury in New York operating under the auspices of the Manhattan district attorney. That grand jury wants to see nearly 10 years' worth of financial papers and tax returns from President Trump. Remember, President Trump is the first president since Jimmy Carter not to voluntarily release his tax returns during the campaign. And a grand jury has been looking into possible wrongdoing.

This all started after lawyer Michael Cohen testified. He helped pay women who allegedly had affairs with Trump to keep them quiet during the 2016 campaign. Now, the Manhattan DA is arguing a president does not enjoy across-the-board immunity for documents that aren't part of his official duties at the White House - basically, that no one is above the law, not even the president. But the Justice Department says a president cannot be prosecuted in office. It leaves open the possibility that could happen later once he leaves Washington, though.

GREENE: But President Trump has fought this subpoena all the way up to the Supreme Court now. And I understand the Justice Department is weighing in on his behalf, right?

JOHNSON: Yeah. The Justice Department says, at a minimum, the district attorney should have to show he has a real need for these records. And personal lawyers for the president say the nation needs his undivided attention, especially in times of crisis. Now, remember, President Trump is very fond of tweeting about presidential harassment. He's basically arguing these prosecutors in New York are interfering with his day job during the coronavirus pandemic.

GREENE: OK. So that's one big ruling from the court we'll be waiting for. That's the first case. And the second case, this involves Congress demanding - making demands that involve the president. Tell us about that.

JOHNSON: Yeah. This second case actually wraps up efforts by three different congressional committees to get information about Trump's finances. But instead of knocking on the door of the White House, the committees asked Trump's accountant and two financial institutions to hand over a bunch of records. Lawmakers say they want the documents to try to figure out how to craft maybe new money laundering legislation and legislation on ethics issues and the like. And an interesting fact here, David, is that Mazars, the accounting firm, didn't object to providing the material to Congress. But President Trump sued to block the company from complying with that subpoena.

GREENE: Oh, interesting. Well, what are we hearing from the White House about all of this, Carrie?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Lawyers for the president and his financial advisers say Congress is basically trying to engage in law enforcement, that it's not really trying to legislate. They say the committees haven't shown they have a legitimate reason for the information. And they say making these kinds of demands about the president's private records is a big reach. Now, some justices during the oral argument seemed to worry about the implications of siding with Congress in a big way here. One asked, what about Congressman Joseph McCarthy, widely discredited for leading a witch hunt in the 1950s?

GREENE: And briefly, Carrie, could we see any of these documents potentially before the election?

JOHNSON: It's possible but unlikely. The Supreme Court could order some of the records to go to the grand jury. But that process is secret. And even if the court rules on behalf of Congress in some limited way, it could send the cases back to lower court. So seeing this stuff before November seems like a reach.

GREENE: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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