Federal judge orders Trump to hand over tax returns to prosecutors

October 8, 2019

A federal judge in New York has ruled that President Donald Trump must hand over his tax returns to Manhattan prosecutors who are still investigating what may now seem like a sideshow to the Ukraine story.

The prosecutors are probing Trump’s business, the Trump Organization, over hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and a Playboy model and have subpoenaed Trump’s tax returns from accounting firm Mazars USA.

President Trump’s lawyers argued that Trump has executive immunity from criminal prosecution, but Judge Victor Marrero ruled that Trump must release the documents — although an appellate court has placed a temporary stay of decision, meaning that Trump can refuse to comply for now.

Judge orders Trump to release his tax returns

In August, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. subpoenaed eight years of Trump’s tax returns and other documents from Mazars dating to 2011. Trump’s lawyers have sought to block the documents’ release, saying that Trump is exempt from any criminal prosecution since he is the chief executive of the United States government.

But Judge Marrero rejected the Trump team’s argument, saying he “cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process as being countenanced by the nation’s constitutional plan, especially in the light of the fundamental concerns over excessive arrogation of power that animated the Constitution’s delicate structure and its calibrated balance of authority among the three branches of the national government, as well as between the federal and state authorities.” Democrats have similarly argued that Trump is running roughshod over the separation of powers.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that Vance, who is a Democrat, is leading a politically motivated investigation. The president blasted the ruling as just another attempt by the left to attack him:

“The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts, so now 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!”

Trump did find some relief Monday after appealing the case to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which placed the subpoena on hold until the case finishes making its way through the courts. Democrats have also sought to obtain Trump’s tax returns by suing the Treasury Department.

Witch Hunts continue

The president has consistently blasted investigations into his business, campaign and presidency as a “witch hunt” aimed at thwarting his candidacy and later his presidency. Until recently, those “witch hunts” failed to stick — but then the Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry last month over a “whistleblower” complaint accusing Trump of asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

While the Stormy Daniels controversy might as well be ancient history by now, the jury is still out on whether Trump’s tax returns will be released. But Trump certainly doesn’t seem to have an unprejudiced judiciary on his side. In rejecting Trump’s plea, Judge Marrero openly challenged the convention that sitting presidents cannot be charged with a crime.

“[T]he theory has gained a certain degree of axiomatic acceptance, and the DOJ Memos which propagate it have assumed substantial legal force as if their conclusion were inscribed on constitutional tablets so-etched by the Supreme Court,” Marrero wrote. “The Court considers such popular currency for the categorical concept and its legal support as not warranted.”

Trump’s former friend, attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen is serving a three-year jail sentence for campaign finance violations and other financial crimes after publicly turning on Trump, including in a sensationalized, now-forgotten congressional hearing. Vance Jr. launched his probe after prosecutors closed out their investigation into Cohen without charging Trump over the hush-money payments.

In the grand scheme of things, the Stormy Daniels controversy is a forgotten sideshow of a sideshow. But if Democrats do get Trump’s tax returns, they will have scored a victory.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.