Future presidential candidate Donald Trump had one story about releasing his tax records. Candidate Trump had another story. And President Trump had yet a third story.
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote a fourth, saying his personal and business records — including his tax returns — could be handed over to an investigation being pursued by a New York City district attorney. But the court also said U.S. House Democrats weren't entitled to them for now.
Both decisions were 7-2 votes and did not have the liberal-conservative split seen in some recent rulings. The dissenting votes were cast in both cases by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, two Republican appointees.
We believe both cases stemmed solely from Democrats wanting to uncover dirt on Trump, and that no matter how secret grand jury records are supposed to be in the district attorney's investigation, information undoubtedly will leak out, essentially giving House Democrats what they want.
No man, including Trump, is above the law, but the cases never would have been brought had he not been so hated after he won the 2016 presidential election in a shocking upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Of course, as we acknowledged, the president brought this on himself with his all-over-the-place comments on his taxes.
"If I decide to run for office," Trump told "Ireland AM" in 2014, "I'll produce my tax returns, absolutely. And I would love to do that."
Once he declared his candidacy, he said he would have to have "everything all approved" by his accountants, then said he couldn't release his returns because he was being audited.
Nevertheless, Trump tweeted in 2016, "In interview I told @AP that my taxes are under routine audit and I would release my tax returns when audit is complete, not after election!"
Once he was elected, though, he said the public didn't care because it elected him anyway.
No law says presidential candidates must release their tax returns, but between 1974 and 2012 every president but Gerald Ford did. And Ford released 10 years of summary data, including gross income, taxable income, major deductions and taxes paid.
The general public likely wouldn't be able to comprehensively decipher the returns of a businessman who has assets across the world, who has had bankruptcies and who has likely taken advantage of every favorable tax law. And a left-leaning media would attempt to find, or insinuate if it couldn't find, any scintilla of wrongdoing.
So, we understand Trump's inclination for not wanting his taxes released, but he once said he would "love to do that." And now the high court says he must.
The state investigation by Cyrus Vance Jr., the New York City district attorney, concerns hush money candidate Trump allegedly paid ahead of the 2016 election to two women with whom he had sexual relationships.
Although the court cases eventually reached the Supreme Court, the purpose of subpoenaing the personal and business records in the state case, according to a CNBC analysis, is "relatively opaque," and the district attorney hasn't said whether the president is a suspect in his investigation and has not indicated any potential charges.
Vance on Thursday said the investigation "will resume, guided as always by the grand jury's solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead."
What he meant was we'll use the finest microscope if we have to find what we need.
The House Democrats' desire for Trump's records is something else, said Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote for the majority in both cases.
"This case is different," he wrote. "Here the President's information is sought not by prosecutors or private parties in connection with a particular judicial proceeding, but by committees of Congress that have set forth broad legislative objectives.
"Congress and the President — the two political branches established by the Constitution — have an ongoing relationship that the Framers intended to feature both rivalry and reciprocity," Roberts said.
The House Oversight Committee, the House Intelligence Committee and the House Financial Services Committee wanted the records to excise their pound of flesh.
Roberts essentially said the congressional committees don't have a blank check for issuing subpoenas because it would "leave essentially no limits on the congressional power to subpoena the President's personal records."
While Congress has "indispensable" powers to obtain information, he said, they must be related to a legitimate purpose and not another reason.
So, while the lower court ruling on the House requests was vacated, the case was sent back to the lower court, where more carefully worded subpoenas might be written to obtain the same records.
Various analyses of Thursday's rulings caution that the returns may never be made public, but we feel sure if they are ever turned over they will dribble out whether they are sealed or not and whether or not their secrecy is sworn to by a grand jury.
If that is the case, those who desire the president's records for whatever reasons will have gotten their wish.