A federal appeals panel unanimously ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump cannot block Manhattan's district attorney from enforcing a subpoena for his tax returns and other materials, delivering yet another blow to the president's effort to conceal the financial documents and possibly setting off another Supreme Court fight.
The ruling was the latest in a battle that started last year, when Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. issued a subpoena for eight years of Trump's personal and corporate tax returns and related records to his accounting firm, Mazars USA. Trump's lawyers suggested the subpoena was overly broad and politically motivated.
"We hold that none of the president's allegations, taken together or separately, are sufficient to raise a plausible inference that the subpoena was issued 'out of malice or an intent to harass,'" wrote the three-judge panel from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, staying a lower court's decision.
This is the fifth time courts have rebuffed Trump’s attempts to block the subpoena. https://t.co/IWIV3FJUXR
— Stand Up America (@StandUpAmerica) October 7, 2020
CNN explained that "the appeals court stayed the enforcement of the subpoena based on a joint agreement between the Manhattan district attorney and the president's legal team. Under that arrangement, there is a 12-day briefing schedule for Trump to ask the Supreme Court to stay the enforcement of the subpoena."
In a pair of 7-2 rulings in July, the high court determined that Vance could subpoena Trump's financial records but blocked Congress from seeing the documents. In both decisions, Trump appointees Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined the majority while Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
Those rulings preceded the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in mid-September. While the Republican-controlled Senate aims to confirm Trump's nominee to replace her, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, before Election Day, it is unclear how the eight justices currently on the court would rule if Trump's legal team appeals.
New: Trump has again lost his effort to stop the NY DA's office from enforcing a grand jury subpoena for his tax returns. The 2nd Circuit upheld the latest dismissal of Trump's case. But the ruling is on hold pending Trump trying to take it back to SCOTUS. https://t.co/sXXPxKdhEQ pic.twitter.com/U6aLgtXrOE
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— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) October 7, 2020
The Justice Department is reviewing the panel's ruling, a spokesperson told the Associated Press, which pointed out that Vance's probe partly pertains to hush-money payments that the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal—who say they had affairs with Trump, which he denies—during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Reporting on the Wednesday decision, the New York Times noted that "Vance has not revealed the scope of his office's criminal inquiry, citing grand jury secrecy. But prosecutors have suggested in court papers that they are looking at a range of potential crimes, including tax and insurance fraud and falsification of business records. They have said that the tax records are central to the investigation."
The ruling comes after the Times, in late September, began publishing reports based on over two decades of Trump's closely guarded tax return data. The information obtained by the newspaper contradicted the president's presentation of himself as a self-made billionaire and revealed tax avoidance practices that some critics have speculated could eventually land Trump behind bars.
— Tax March (@taxmarch) October 7, 2020
The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has seized on the explosive Times reporting to contrast the former vice president with Trump and a coalition of progressive groups launched We Paid More, a new effort to highlight an "utterly rigged" tax system that enables the wealthy president to pay less in federal income taxes than nurses, teachers, and many other workers.