The Supreme Court heard argument today in a number of consolidated cases that seek release of Trump’s tax returns. For a man who appears to commit crimes and abuse power in public view ALL THE TIME, the tax returns have proven to be quite a sticking point. Trump demonstrably has no shame whatsoever, yet is fighting tooth and nail to keep the taxes secret. Could this be the smoking gun that finally brings down his presidency?
I’m not so sure. It is important, when contemplating Trump’s motivations, to always remember that every interaction must have a winner and a loser. Perhaps he is only fighting so hard because he just wants (needs) to win. But it is hard not to let my imagination run wild, especially considering how long this controversy has raged.
Once again, the Court conducted business with a live audio feed. Up until last week, that had never happened before and it is giving SCOTUS a louder voice. The actual arguments are live-tweeted and the soundbites can be played on the evening news. Pretty nifty.
But it’s not great theater. There is a presumption that the third-party financial institution should obey Congress’ duly authorized subpoena. Trump has a laundry list of arguments, including procedural matters, which seek to upend that presumption. The substantive arguments are (1) the disclosure creates a burden or distraction that would prohibit the President from fulfilling his other, more important, Constitutional duties and (2) whether the House’s legislative duty can be shown to relate to the subpoenas.
With regard to the second question, I was surprised to hear Justice Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, signal that when the House says it has a legislative purpose for the subpoena, that should be sufficient. At the same time, I don’t think that the case will turn on legislative purpose.
I’m more interested to see what the Court decides with the first question. Are the President’s duties of such a nature that ANY oversight is too distracting and must be prohibited? That’s a scary precedent, but the Court has the cover to go there thanks to the pandemic. The concept of distracting and burdensome information requests usually relates to the effort involved in COMPLYING with the subpoena. In this instance, the subpoena is not directed to the President, but to a third party who has indicated that it will not be burdened by compliance.
So what is the burden or distraction that supports the President’s argument? Is it that he will simply be too worried about people trying to find a treasure trove of past inconsistent statements and other malfeasance? That’s only a problem (distraction) if there is something in those documents that can be used against him. Which is the whole reason they are being requested! So, a decision by the Court that the banks should not comply with the congressional subpoenas, really means that any investigation or oversight of any kind is too much for the Chief Executive. It’s just too much.
Maybe while specifying that its ruling is limited to the context of a catastrophic worldwide pandemic, the Court can also mention that the decision only applies to exceptionally weak and insecure Presidents.