Court rejects Trump tax return subpoena appeal

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A federal appeals court panel rejected President Trump’s challenge to a Manhattan district attorney’s subpoena for his financial records, including his tax returns, the latest loss for the president in a series of recent legal battles which includes a defeat at the Supreme Court this summer.

Circuit Judges Pierre Leval, Robert Katzmann, Raymond Lohier of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a 35-page opinion on Wednesday shooting down the Justice Department and siding with Cyrus Vance, the district attorney of New York County, tossing out the president’s efforts to continue the fight within the appeals court by dismissing the Trump legal team’s effort to push for a second amended complaint in the protracted legal battle and upholding a district court ruling.

“We find that the claim of overbreadth is not plausibly alleged for two interrelated reasons,” the appeals court judges said on Wednesday. “First, the President’s bare assertion that the scope of the grand jury’s investigation is limited only to certain payments made by Michael Cohen in 2016 amounts to nothing more than implausible speculation. Second, without the benefit of this linchpin assumption, all other allegations of overbreadth — based on the types of documents sought, the types of entities covered, and the time period covered by the subpoena, as well as the subpoena’s near identity to a prior Congressional subpoena—fall short of meeting the plausibility standard. Similarly, the President’s allegations of bad faith fail to raise a plausible inference that the subpoena was issued out of malice or an intent to harass.”

The three appeals court judges granted an interim stay of enforcement of Vance’s subpoena to give the Justice Department time to attempt to appeal the case back up to the Supreme Court.

“We are reviewing the decision,” DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec told the Washington Examiner after the ruling. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said his team intends on asking the Supreme Court to issue a stay.

The case, Trump v. Vance, pertains to the district attorney for New York County asking for eight years’ worth of Trump’s personal tax returns in connection with a grand jury investigation. The documents are material for which the president may not claim executive privilege.

The appeals court upheld a district court ruling from August.

“The concept of temporary absolute immunity would bear adverse consequences for the fair and effective administration of justice. Theoretically, if reelected, a President could be in office for eight years, perhaps longer in the case of a President who assumes office to fill a vacancy in the presidency. For a prosecutor to wait until then to obtain vital records necessary for an investigation of potential criminal conduct would risk that key witnesses would no longer be available and that their memories of the events would have significantly dimmed,” Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York said in his ruling at the time. “In that event not only the President but also any private individual accomplices implicated in serious crimes could escape being brought to justice, while potentially innocent persons snared in the scandal may be unable to gain official exculpation.”

Before that, the Supreme Court ruled in July that the president must allow the state of New York to examine his financial records as part of a grand jury criminal investigation.

Trump’s attorneys argued in court that Vance’s subpoena “is wildly overbroad and is not remotely confined to the grand jury investigation that began in 2018.” They also said that the subpoena “demands voluminous documents that relate to topics and entities far beyond the district attorney’s limited jurisdiction under New York law” and that “this is not a properly tailored subpoena for the president’s records.” Trump’s legal team further argued that Vance’s subpoena “was issued in bad faith.”

But the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that “Article II and the Supremacy Clause do not categorically preclude, or require a heightened standard for, the issuance of a state criminal subpoena” to a sitting president.

“Two hundred years ago, a great jurist of our Court established that no citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “We reaffirm that principle today and hold that the president is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need.”

“This is all a political prosecution,” Trump tweeted after that ruling. “I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!”

The New York prosecutor is seeking the documents as part of an investigation into potential state crimes relating to hush-money payments made to pornographic star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election.

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