July 9, 2020 / 6:16 PM / a month ago

Breakingviews - Trump case gives mogul presidential wannabes pause

Bill Christeson holds a sign reading "follow the money" in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on U.S. President Donald Trump's bid to block his financial records from being obtained by third parties, outside the court in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Breakingviews) - The U.S. Supreme Court just gave moguls who want to run America a reason to pause. Justices ruled on Thursday that a New York prosecutor can obtain President Donald Trump’s financial records. Congress had less luck in another case, but the decision clarifies what information White House occupants can keep under wraps. That sets a new bar for other business leaders who want the job.

The former real-estate magnate flouted presidential tradition by refusing to release his tax returns. Questions about Trump’s business dealings have led to multiple investigations, including a probe by the Manhattan district attorney’s office into alleged hush-money payments to two women who said they had sexual relationships with Trump. Three committees in Congress also sought Trump’s financial records, including subpoenas issued to Capital One Financial and Deutsche Bank. 

In the 7-2 decision against Trump, Chief Justice John Roberts said “not even the president” can avoid producing evidence in a criminal proceeding. That opens the door to a grand jury getting a look at Trump’s tax returns and other records. Meanwhile, the justices kicked the congressional case back to the lower courts to ensure lawmakers aren’t granted unlimited authority.

Trump’s legal entanglements are out of the ordinary. But other businesspeople seeking public office have also declined to release, or reduced access to, records that give insights into their wealth. As New York City’s mayor, Mike Bloomberg provided the media with redacted and edited versions of his financial documents during a limited amount of time. He said he would release his tax returns while he was running for this year’s presidential race. But he had not done so by the time he pulled out in March, even though his Democratic rivals had disclosed theirs. He has a net worth of about $60 billion, according to Forbes.

Trump’s ascendance to the White House has opened the door for others in the business world who don’t have any political experience. Former Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz also ran for the Democratic nomination while investor Mark Cuban and former Walt Disney boss Bob Iger have toyed with throwing their hat into the White House ring. The Supreme Court ruling adds an extra consideration for presidential wannabes wary of having all and sundry in their business.


Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.

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