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Supreme Court Rules On Two Key Cases In Battle For Trump's Taxes

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The United States Supreme Court ended its term this year with two very important decisions about President Trump's financial records. At issue was whether the president's financial records, including his tax returns, had to be turned over to a New York grand jury as well as to Congress. The court ruled 7-2 in both cases. In one, it said the financial documents must be handed over to the New York prosecutor. In another, it said Congress won't get those documents, at least for now. So what, if anything, will the public get to see? That remains an open question. Let's turn to NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Good morning, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK. So let's start with the first of these two cases. This one was connected to a criminal investigation in the state of New York, right?

TOTENBERG: This is a grand jury subpoena, and the grand jury and the Congress or congressional committees subpoenaed essentially the same, but not identical, information from Trump's accountants Mazars USA and from Deutsche Bank and another bank, which together lent Trump businesses over the years billions of dollars. And Trump intervened in both cases to block the subpoenas.

Well, today, the Supreme Court ruled first in the New York grand jury case, and it was a clean kill for the district attorney of New York - of New York County, Cyrus Vance. Those documents will go immediately to the grand jury. They've been packaged up for months, ready to go. The banks and Mazars never objected, but the president objected. Now, that objection is of no consequence, and they go directly to the grand jury. But, of course, we won't see those for - while they go into these and examine them for the purposes of their investigation.

GREENE: Oh, so that means, I mean, among other things, President Trump's tax returns, which have been much discussed for some time now, we're - the public is not likely to see those anytime soon.

TOTENBERG: No. And we don't know the exact contours of this investigation. We know it's broad. We know it that, as one top investigator put it, that Deutsche Bank, more than any other institution, has the keys to the black box of Trump's empire. And this will give Vance a chance to open that black box.

We also know that they're investigating allegations of criminal violations - hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign. That's the only thing we know with any specificity. So...

GREENE: OK.

TOTENBERG: ...If we move on now to the grand jury stuff, that's a lot more - I mean, to the Congressional subpoenas, that's a lot muddier.

GREENE: Right. So this is the second case where the court took what sounds like a very different stance here.

TOTENBERG: It's - as I said, it's muddy. The chief...

GREENE: It's complicated.

TOTENBERG: ...Justice - (laughter) the chief justice, John Roberts, wrote both opinions. And in this one, he said, look. Congress, you didn't justify this well enough. And these separation of powers questions are very important. And we don't want to harm either the president or the constitutional power given to Congress to oversee and to legislate. But if you're going to get any of this stuff, you're going to have to go back to the lower court and prove why you need individual items or at least show - make a better showing with greater specificity. And the lower court has to make further findings. And, again, none of that's going to happen until after the election.

GREENE: Oh, so this is basically the court saying, Congress, you may have the right to see these records, but you didn't do enough. Send it back to a lower court and try again.

TOTENBERG: It's an exquisite judicial punt.

GREENE: (Laughter). Well, do you mind, Nina? I mean, this has been - I mean, can I call this a blockbuster term? We got a lot of significant decisions with some surprises, as you've said to us. What is your big takeaway from this term if you look at it broadly?

TOTENBERG: I would say that even though it was narrow, Trump lost a lot in his clashes with the Supreme Court and the positions his Justice Department took in the Supreme Court - not all by any means, but he lost on his attempt to get rid of DACA. He lost on his position to overturn a 4-year-old precedent in terms of abortion, narrowly, but he lost with Chief Justice Roberts writing the controlling opinion. He basically lost in these cases today.

And if you have any doubt about it, he - what he said - immediately tweeted out was the Supreme Court case back to the lower court arguments continue. This is all political prosecution. I won the Mueller witch hunt and others, and now I have to keep fighting in politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this presidency or administration. Courts in the past have given broad deference, but not me, he said.

GREENE: Interesting. Well, hopefully, we can say this will be the last term in a while that took place in the midst of a pandemic.

TOTENBERG: Yes. And I would - one other thing I'd add, that in the case giving the LGBTQ community employment rights under the Civil Rights Act, he not only lost Roberts, Gorsuch - his own nominee, Neil Gorsuch - wrote the opinion.

GREENE: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Always great to talk to you, especially on mornings like this. Nina, thank you so much.

TOTENBERG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.