During three hours of teleconference calls on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump’s legal team argued to the Supreme Court Justices against the ‘unprecedented’ attempt by the Democrat controlled House of Representatives and a New York prosecutor to have access to the president’s financial records and tax documents saying Trump deserved “temporary presidential immunity” .
“We’re asking for temporary presidential immunity,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told the court on Tuesday.
Trump has shielded his tax returns and other records long before he became president, while his opponents have launched legal inquiries into hush money payments by his lawyers and potential violations of financial disclosure.
House Democrats say they need records from Trump’s longtime accounting firm and two banks to investigate a variety of issues ranging from alleged hush money payments, illegal foreign involvement in a US campaign and potential violations of money laundering and ethics rules.
Trump’s lawyers sued to block the subpoenas by Democrats arguing that although they are directed to third parties — Mazars USA, Deutsche Bank and Capital One — they involve the President and members of his family and amount to an illegal invasion of privacy of the First family..
Although Federal appeals courts have ruled against the President, Democrats say they need the documents even though the impeachment trial of the President ended in acquittal early this year.
The justices, looking at the case on Tuesday via teleconference call due to Covid-19 precautions, focused on Trump’s effort to shield his documents, but they also questioned the lawyers to look into the future and see how an eventual decision will impact the separation of powers between the Legislative and Executive branch of government.
When a lawyer for the House of Representatives argued in support of the subpoenas being issued , Chief Justice John Roberts asked the lawyer about the limits of congressional powers and suggested that the House needed to take into consideration the fact that the subpoenas involved, were not aimed at an ordinary litigant, but the President of the country.
Roberts said the House didn’t seem “to take account of the fact that we are talking about a coordinate branch of government, the executive branch.” According to Justice John the House was arguing that its power was “limitless.” and amounted to ‘harassment of the president’
The liberal justices, meanwhile, attacked Trump’s team with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg saying that every recent president has voluntarily turned over his tax returns referencing past investigations concerning Watergate, Whitewater and Paula Jones.
“How do you distinguish all of those cases,” she asked, adding that before Congress can legislate, it must investigate.
Another judge, Justice Elena Kagan said that “this isn’t the first conflict between Congress and the President,” she said.
In previous conflicts, the White House and Congress were able to reach an agreement but it hadn’t happened in this case.
“And it seems to me, you’re asking us … to do is to put a kind of 10-ton weight on the scales between the President and Congress and essentially to make it impossible for Congress to perform oversight and to carry out its functions where the President is concerned,” Kagan said.