What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

In case over access to Trump’s finances, Supreme Court asks tough questions

The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in President Trump’s legal battle to keep his finances secret. Authorities in New York as well as several House committees are seeking Trump’s financial records, arguing they could reveal potential crimes or improper influence. As John Yang reports, the Court’s decision could have profound implications for the constitutional separation of powers.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in President Trump's legal battle to keep his personal financial records secret.

    As John Yang reports, the justices' decision could have profound implications for the constitutional separation of government powers.

  • John Yang:

    Arguing before the nation's highest court to try to keep President Trump's financial records private, Mr. Trump's personal attorney made a broad claim: A sitting president is immune from any criminal process, even a grand jury subpoena.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that would put a president above the law.

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

    Is the grand jury right to every man's evidence exclusive of the president?

  • Jay Sekulow:

    This court has long recognized that the president is not to be treated as an ordinary citizen. He has responsibilities. He is, himself, a branch of government. He is the only individual that is a branch of government in our federal system.

  • John Yang:

    Today's conference call oral arguments, which ran longer than scheduled, centered on subpoenas from Congress and a New York City grand jury to Mr. Trump's accounting firm and banks that finance Trump Organization businesses for tax returns and other financial records.

    While the Supreme Court allowed a federal sexual harassment civil suit against President Bill Clinton to go forward while he was in office, the justices have never ruled on a criminal investigation.

    Today, justices pressed the president's attorney why this was different.

  • Justice Neil Gorsuch:

    How is this more burdensome, though, than what took place in Clinton vs. Jones?

  • John Yang:

    The House says its subpoenas are for a legislative purpose. But several justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito, asked whether that justification was too sweeping.

  • Justice Samuel Alito:

    You were not able to give the chief justice even one example of a subpoena that would be — that would not be pertinent to some conceivable legislative purpose, were you?

  • Douglas Letter:

    As I said, Your Honor, the — that's correct, because this court itself has said Congress' power to legislate is extremely broad.

  • John Yang:

    Justice Stephen Breyer worried about the effect on future presidents.

  • Justice Stephen Breyer:

    What I hold today will also apply to a future Senator McCarthy asking a future Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman exactly the same questions. That bothers me.

  • John Yang:

    The immediate effect of the court's decision will be on whether financial records that Democrats have long wanted, and Mr. Trump has long fought disclosing, will be turned over.

    The House Oversight Committee made its demand after hearing last year from former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

  • Michael Cohen:

    It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.

  • John Yang:

    The House Financial Services and Intelligence committees want Trump records to examine possible money laundering in property deals and whether loans from overseas have made the president vulnerable to foreign influence.

    Of particular interest to investigators is Deutsche Bank, the only major financial institution consistently lending to Trump businesses.

    New York Times editor David Enrich is author of "Dark Towers," which focuses on Mr. Trump's ties with the bank.

  • David Enrich:

    Deutsche Bank is holding a dizzying array of financial information on the president. It has information on money coming in and out of his bank accounts, all the information that Trump used when he was applying for loans or opening bank accounts.

    And on top of that, it has a lot of its own records about its employees' concerns as they were working on the Trump relationship.

  • John Yang:

    Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance wants the president's tax records as part of a probe into hush money payments made to two women with whom he allegedly had sexual relationships.

    But the court's ruling could have a longer-term effect on the constitutional balance of power between Congress and the president.

    Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Journal":

  • Marcia Coyle:

    This is a true separation-of-powers dispute, which generally had been worked out between the branches over the decades. But this one, in the face of both parties really hewing to their own positions, is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • John Yang:

    And there could be consequences for the court itself.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    There's very — a real possibility that the general public might view the Supreme Court's decision as political if it is 5-4 in favor of President Trump.

    That's why I also think John Roberts very much is a critical player here in how he can try to find a resolution to this case that will be hopefully bipartisan of sorts.

  • John Yang:

    A decision will likely come by June, just in time for the presidential campaign.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest