Trump tax returns: New York prosecutor says president can't block subpoena for financial records

USA Today 1 month ago

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump lacks authority to block a subpoena that seeks his tax returns and financial records for a criminal investigation, attorneys for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance argued Tuesday in a federal appeals court filing.

Responding to an argument last week by Trump's lawyers that sitting presidents have complete immunity from criminal investigations, Vance's legal team argued, "This extravagant claim is unsupported by constitutional text, statute or case law, and is equally absent from historical texts and government memoranda."

Even the U.S. Department of Justice, which has backed other legal arguments raised by Trump, "stops far short of endorsing this view," Vance's legal team wrote in a 52-page brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The brief also challenged an argument by Trump's lawyers that the only constitutional method to deal with allegations of misconduct by sitting presidents is through the impeachment process.

"The reality is that" Trump "has refused to participate in the very impeachment process that he presents here as the bulwark against placing a president above the law," Vance's lawyers argued. "His core position on every one of these matters is that the United States Presidency places him beyond the reach of the law."

Trump would not suffer "irreparable harm" if the financial records and tax returns are turned over because they would be destroyed or returned, with no public disclosure, if federal courts upheld his immunity claim, the Vance brief said.

However, the New York grand jury that issued the subpoena could be harmed because statutes of limitations on pursuing potential crimes could expire while the case is being appealed, the brief added.

Trump "has made it abundantly clear that his litigation tactics will be to pursue indefinite delay in an effort to frustrate the grand jury," Vance's team argued.

Appeal has been fast-tracked because of its importance

The battle features high personal and political stakes for Trump, who is fighting on multiple fronts with Congress and other parties to keep his tax returns and financial records private.

The New York case has been fast-tracked because of its legal significance. It was just over a week ago that Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero ruled Trump could not shield his tax returns from Vance's investigation.

Marerro's 75-page ruling rejected what he called Trump's "extraordinary claim" that "the person who serves as president, while in office, enjoys absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind." 

That, wrote Marrero, would represent "virtually limitless" protection from criminal investigations – not only for sitting presidents but for associates who might have collaborated in illegal actions. He ruled that Trump was unlikely to succeed on the legal merits of his claim.

Marrero dismissed Trump's lawsuit, writing that "this court finds aspects of such a doctrine repugnant to the nation's governmental structure and constitutional values."

Seeking to overturn Marerro's ruling, Trump's lawyers reasserted precisely that legal argument in their initial appeals court brief, filed last Friday. 

U.S. Department of Justice lawyers at the same time filed a brief arguing Marrero's ruling was incorrect.

Manhattan DA is looking into payments to two women who alleged affairs with Trump

The battle stems from Vance's Aug. 1 grand jury subpoena to the Trump Organization seeking records and communications relating to payments to two women, and how those transactions may have been reflected in the company's records.

The women are adult film star Stephanie Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, and former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal. Both women claimed to have had sexual affairs with Trump. He has denied their claims.

Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, paid $130,000 to Daniels to buy her silence about her alleged affair with Trump. The payment was made shortly before the 2016 presidential election. 

Cohen subsequently pleaded guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud and violations of campaign finance law in connection with that payment.

The owner of the National Enquirer acknowledged that it paid McDougal $150,000 to squelch her account and avoid damaging Trump's presidential campaign. In December, federal prosecutors in New York disclosed that the intent of the August 2016 payment "was to suppress the model's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election."

Trump's company initially cooperated with Vance's investigation. But on Sept. 4, the company said providing Trump's tax records "implicated constitutional issues," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Solomon Shinerock wrote in a court filing.

Vance's office also subpoenaed Mazars USA LLP, Trump's longtime accounting firm, seeking eight years of his returns. Mazars has not raised any objections to the subpoena.

Trump's lawyers face a Thursday deadline to file a response to Vance's arguments. The appeals court has scheduled oral arguments from both sides of the case on Oct. 23.


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