Trump Not Immune From Manhattan DA’s Demand for Tax Returns, Federal Appeals Court Rules

November 5, 2019by Stephen Rex Brown
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., left, arrives for the first day of Yoselyn Ortega's murder trial on March 1, 2018, in New York. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News/TNS)

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump is not entitled to Oval Office immunity that would block Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. from obtaining copies of his tax returns, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The 34-page ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is another defeat for Trump in the legal battle over his tax returns. Vance’s subpoena for the records is on hold as the case makes its way to the Supreme Court.

“We are not faced, in this case, with the president’s arrest or imprisonment, or with an order compelling him to attend court at a particular time or place, or, indeed, with an order that compels the president himself to do anything. The subpoena at issue is directed not to the president, but to his accountants; compliance does not require the president to do anything at all,” Judge Robert Katzmann wrote for the three-judge panel.

“There is no obvious reason why a state could not begin to investigate a president during his term and, with the information secured during that search, ultimately determine to prosecute him after he leaves office.”

Vance is seeking eight years of Trump’s taxes in connection with an investigation into hush-money payments Trump made to women during the 2016 presidential campaign. Vance served the subpoena on Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA.

Trump’s attorneys had made a remarkably broad claim of presidential immunity, arguing it extended to associates and businesses. Trump attorney William Consovoy drew incredulous laughter during a hearing before the Manhattan appeals court last month when he said the president couldn’t be arrested if he actually shot someone on Fifth Avenue.

The new ruling avoided thorny questions about presidential powers and Vance’s authority as a local prosecutor.

“The subpoena seeks only the president’s private tax returns and financial information relating to the businesses he owns in his capacity as a private citizen,” the court wrote. “These documents do not implicate, in any way, the performance of his official duties.”

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow vowed to appeal.

“The decision of the 2nd Circuit will be taken to the Supreme Court. The issue raised in this case goes to the heart of our Republic. The constitutional issues are significant,” he said.

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