A federal judge on Monday delivered good news to those holding out hope that the public will one day see Donald Trump’s tax returns. In a 75-page ruling, Manhattan judge Victor Marrero slapped down Trump’s argument that sitting presidents cannot be criminally investigated. That allows the Manhattan district attorney to move forward with a subpoena on eight years of Trump’s tax returns. It won’t happen immediately though. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a temporary stay of the subpoena Monday morning.
In a tweet, Trump blamed “Radical Left Democrats” for the case, writing that they “are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!”
Monday’s ruling comes more than a month after Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance subpoenaed Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, for Trump’s corporate and personal tax returns going back to 2011. The subpoena is part of the investigation into the $130,000 in hush money paid to Stormy Daniels in the days before the 2016 general election.
While Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, initially paid Daniels, who says she had an affair with the president, Cohen said the Trump Organization later reimbursed him. Trump still denies the affair.
Federal prosecutors passed on prosecuting anyone beyond Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal campaign-finance violations, but Vance is still investigating whether Trump violated state law. The DA asked the judge to dismiss Trump’s lawsuit, saying Trump was attempting “to invent and enforce a new presidential ‘tax return privilege,’ on the theory that disclosing information in a tax return will necessarily reveal information that will somehow impede the functioning of a president.”
Trump’s attempt to claim complete immunity from criminal investigation was novel, legal experts said last month when his lawyers put it forward. His team argued that the Constitution prevents the Manhattan DA, or any other state or local prosecutor, “from criminally investigating, prosecuting, or indicting the President while he is in office.” They said the Founding Fathers would have agreed:
“The Framers of our Constitution understood that state and local prosecutors would be tempted to criminally investigate the President to advance their own careers and to advance their political agendas. And they likewise understood that having to defend against these actions would distract the President from his constitutional duties.”
In Monday’s decision, Marrero disagreed, calling the argument “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.”
Though Trump is clearly trying to keep Vance from getting his tax returns, the documents would not necessarily be made public if the DA succeeds. Instead, the returns would be kept secret as a part of the grand jury proceedings. That is unless they became evidence in the criminal investigation.