President Trump and his team of overworked lawyers have been able to successfully resist lawmakers’ efforts to subpoena his tax returns, stalling on House and statehouse requests by suing to hold up the process. But a new subpoena for Trump’s tax returns filed by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance could break that cycle: Late in August, as part of a criminal investigation into the Trump Organization’s $130,000 hush payment to Stormy Daniels, the DA reportedly subpoenaed the president’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, for the president’s personal and corporate tax returns on the federal and state level going back to 2011. Unlike previous subpoenas, this one is in the context of a criminal investigation with a sitting grand jury, making it more difficult for the president’s lawyers to dodge this filing with a lawsuit.
Of particular importance in the DA investigation — and a detail that could be confirmed by observing Trump’s tax sheets — is whether or not Trump or his company filed the Daniels payoff in 2016 as a legal expense. Falsifying business records is illegal in the state of New York. As CNN legal analyst Elie Honig notes, that might not be a big deal as far as Trump’s baseline criminality goes — unless the falsification is in order to obscure another crime.
In September, Mother Jones reported on a potential instance in which the president may have committed tax fraud: On personal financial disclosure forms filed each year, Trump claims he owes $50 million to a company, Chicago Unit Acquisition, that he owns. It’s possible that Trump is moving money around in this fashion to avoid paying taxes on the sum, a deal that could be proven to be “garden-variety fraud,” according to Georgetown law professor Adam Levitin. Then there’s the instance of what the New York Times called “overt fraud” by Trump in the 1990s, regarding a company owned by the family called All County Building Supply & Maintenance:
All County’s ostensible purpose was to be the purchasing agent for Fred Trump’s buildings, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. It did no such thing, records and interviews show. Instead All County siphoned millions of dollars from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin. Fred Trump then used the padded All County receipts to justify bigger rent increases for thousands of tenants.
Unfortunately for a public eager to see the president’s taxes, his returns would remain private throughout the investigation — unless the filings were used as evidence in a criminal case against Trump or his company. But past glimpses into Trump’s taxes have been revelatory in showing how the president failed to live up to his gold-plated image: A report from May proved that Trump lost a staggering $1.17 billion of (mostly) other people’s money between 1985 and 1994, while a New York Times investigation from October 2018 proved that Trump, for years, needed healthy cash injections from his father in order to keep his businesses afloat, totaling $413 million. Many of those gifts to Trump were in order to help his father avoid paying taxes. It must run in the family.