Law & the Courts

Judge Rules Trump Must Hand Over Tax Returns to Manhattan DA

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, September 16, 2019 (Al Drago/Reuters)

Federal judge Victor Marrero ruled on Monday that the Manhattan district attorney’s office could subpoena eight years of President Trump’s tax returns, rejecting the president’s broad defense that the Constitution effectively prohibits all criminal inquiries into sitting presidents.

In the 75-page decision, Marrero called Trump’s defense “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values” and denied the “categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process.”

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office issued a subpoena for the tax returns last week as part of an investigation into former Trump attorney Michael D. Cohen’s hush-money payment to pornographer Stormy Daniels.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison in December 2018 for evasion and campaign-finance law violations related to the payment. While federal prosecutors have “effectively concluded” their investigation into the hush-money payment, Vance’s office is exploring whether the reimbursements also violated any New York laws.

Last week, Justice Department lawyers asked Marrero to temporarily block the subpoena while the court examines the constitutionality of Trump’s defense. According to Justice Department guidelines, federal prosecutors are barred from charging a sitting president with a crime, but the Constitution does not explicitly answer the issue, and the Supreme Court has never ruled definitively on the subject.

Trump’s defense team has called the actions of Vance, a Democrat, politically motivated. The subpoena is to Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm, for federal and state tax returns for both the president and his company, dating back to 2011.

The announcement is not the first instance of controversy surrounding President Trump’s tax returns. In May, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin sent a letter to House Democrats rejecting a request for Trump’s personal and business income tax returns. Last week, an IRS whistleblower filed a complaint over potential mismanagement by Treasury officials in the annual audit of the president and vice president’s taxes.

Update: 2:45 p.m.

A federal appeals court has granted Trump a temporary stay of decision, and he will not have to turn over his tax returns to the Manhattan D.A.’s office.

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