The Supreme Court on Monday refused to prevent a New York grand jury from obtaining former President Donald Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns, a decisive defeat in his long legal battle to keep his tax records out of the reach of prosecutors and investigators.
The ruling does not mean that the statements are made public in the short term and may never be known. Under New York state law, materials released to a grand jury must be kept secret. But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance can now require Trump’s accountants to turn over records that the president has steadfastly refused to turn over to prosecutors or Congress.
“The work continues,” Vance said in response to the Supreme Court decision.
Vance is seeking tax returns covering eight years for an investigation into secret money payments and other alleged irregular financial transactions . The investigation began after it was revealed that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $ 130,000 not to discuss an alleged run-in she had with Trump, something the former president has denied.
Cohen also testified to Congress that the Trump Organization lied about its financial situation to evade taxes or obtain favorable loan terms.
In July, the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s claim that, as sitting president, he is immune from any part of the criminal justice system, including grand jury investigations. But the decision indicated that Trump could present his lawsuit before lower courts and provide the same arguments as any citizen to try to annul a request or appointment of tax documentation.
A month later, a federal judge in New York ruled against Trump’s renewed effort to have the request thrown out, describing the complaint as a repackaged version of his original immunity argument. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling now validated by the Supreme Court.
Trump’s legal team said the request for his tax records was too broad and was issued in bad faith to harass him. If all Vance was looking at were the payments made by Cohen, they said, that wouldn’t explain why he simply copied a much larger request that had been issued by a Congressional committee.
The first subpoena issued by a state for the records of a sitting president to be produced should have been adapted appropriately, they told the Supreme Court.
“Their almost unlimited scope – in time, content and geographic reach – has all the characteristics that they are out fishing to see what they achieve,” Trump’s attorneys told the Supreme Court.
“The fact that the subpoena was issued to a third party [the depositary or custodian] while tensions were rising between the Trump Organization and the district attorney, and for dubious efficiency reasons, only makes the bad faith allegation much more plausible, “they added.
But in recent court filings, Vance has hinted that the scope of his investigation may be broader than just secret payments.
“The investigation concerns a variety of business transactions and is based on information derived from public sources, confidential informants and the grand jury process,” Vance told the appeals court. It indicated that it could include the crimes of falsifying business records, insurance fraud and tax fraud.
Now that the Supreme Court has cleared the way for Vance to enforce the tax records request, the president has exhausted his legal options to block it. Full tax return documents, or parts of them, would be released only if Vance files criminal charges at a future date and seeks to present them as evidence.