High court: Trump can’t shield tax records
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a last-ditch attempt by former President Donald Trump to shield his financial records, issuing a brief, unsigned order requiring Trump’s accountants to turn over his tax and other records to prosecutors in New York.
The order was a decisive defeat for Trump, who had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep his tax returns and related documents secret. There were no dissents noted.
The case concerned a subpoena to Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA, by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., a Democrat. The firm has said it will comply with the final ruling of the courts, meaning a grand jury should receive the documents in short order.
Vance issued a threeword statement in response to the court’s order: “The work continues.”
Under grand jury secrecy rules, it would ordinarily be unclear when, if ever, the public would see the information. But the New York Times has obtained more than two decades of tax return data of Trump and his companies and recently published a series of articles about them.
Trump, the articles said, has sustained significant losses, owes enormous debts that he is personally obligated to repay, has avoided paying federal income taxes in 11 of the 18 years the Times examined and paid just $750 in both 2016 and 2017.
The scope of Vance’s inquiry is not known. It arose partly from an investigation by his office into hush money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump, relationships the president has denied. But court filings by prosecutors suggested that they are also investigating potential crimes such as tax and insurance fraud.
The subpoena sought tax records and financial statements since 2011, engagement agreements with the accountants who prepared them, the underlying raw financial data and information about how the data was analyzed.
As a candidate in 2016, Trump promised to disclose his tax returns, but he never did. Instead, he fought to shield them from scrutiny, for reasons that have been the subject of much speculation. In 2019, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that state prosecutors may require third parties to turn over a sitting president’s financial records for use in a grand jury investigation.
Trump appealed to the Supreme Court. In July, the justices rejected Trump’s central constitutional argument against the subpoena: that state prosecutors are powerless to investigate a sitting president.
“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 for the majority in that decision.
But the court gave Trump another opportunity to challenge the subpoena, on narrower grounds.
Trump did just that, but his arguments were rejected by a trial judge and a unanimous three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in New York.
Trump’s lawyers then filed an “emergency application” asking the Supreme Court to intercede.