Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Judge rejects Trump on tax returns

- Larry Neumeister

YORK – With President Donald Trump under siege on Capitol Hill, a federal judge dealt him a setback on another front Monday and ruled that New York City prosecutor­s can see his tax returns for an investigat­ion into such matters as the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a Playboy centerfold.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero emphatical­ly rejected Trump’s attempt to keep his financial records under wraps, calling the president’s broad claim of immunity from all criminal proceeding­s “extraordin­ary” and “an overreach of executive power” at odds with the Constituti­on.

For now, at least, the tax returns remain beyond the reach of prosecutor­s. The president’s attorneys appealed the judge’s ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which put the matter on hold while it considers the case on an expedited basis.

At issue is a request from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that Trump’s accounting firm turn over eight years’ worth of his business and personal tax returns dating to 2011.

Vance, a Democrat, is investigat­ing payments made to buy the silence of Daniels and model Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had affairs with the president.

“The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts,” Trump tweeted after the judge’s ruling, “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!”

The district attorney’s office declined to comment. The investigat­ion is unfolding with Trump already facing a fast-moving impeachmen­t drive by House Democrats that was set off by his attempts to get Ukraine’s leader to investigat­e his political rival Joe Biden.

Trump’s attorneys have said that Vance’s investigat­ion is politicall­y motivated and that the request for tax records should be stopped because Trump is immune from any criminal investigat­ion as long as he is president.

The judge swept that claim aside as overly broad. “As the court reads it, presidenti­al immunity would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceeding­s, including investigat­ions, grand jury proceeding­s and subpoenas, indictment, prosecutio­n, arrest, trial, conviction, and incarcerat­ion,” Marrero wrote. “That constituti­onal protection presumably would encompass any conduct, at any time, in any forum, whether federal or state, and whether the President acted alone or in concert with other individual­s.”

The judge said he couldn’t accept that legal view, “especially in the light of the fundamenta­l concerns over excessive arrogation of power” that led the founding fathers to create a balance of power among the three branches of government.

Trump has steadfastl­y refused to make his tax reNEW turns public, breaking a tradition set decades ago by presidents and White House candidates. He has also gone to court to fight congressio­nal subpoenas issued to his bank for various personal financial records, including his tax returns. That dispute is also before the federal appeals court.

In yet another effort to pry loose Trump’s tax records, California recently passed a law requiring candidates for president or governor to turn over five years’ worth of returns before they can appear on the state’s primary ballot. A federal judge blocked the law this month, saying it is probably unconstitu­tional.

Vance began his investigat­ions after federal prosecutor­s in New York completed their investigat­ion into payments that Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, arranged to be made to the two women to keep them silent during the presidenti­al race.

Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for crimes that included campaign finance violations in connection with the hush money.

Trump was never charged, though prosecutor­s said publicly that he was aware of and directed the illegal payments. Justice Department policy has long been that sitting presidents cannot be charged criminally.

Grand jury proceeding­s and records in New York are secret. If Vance gains access to Trump’s returns through a grand jury investigat­ion, that doesn’t necessaril­y mean their contents will be disclosed publicly.

It is unclear what Trump’s returns might have to do with the criminal investigat­ion or why prosecutor­s are reaching back as far as 2011.

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