Judge blocks California law seeking Trump’s tax returns
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal judge on Thursday handed President Donald Trump a victory in his effort to keep his financial information secret, siding with his campaign’s effort to block a California law aimed at forcing him to release his tax returns.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. comes as the president faces multiple Democratic-led efforts to force him to reveal his returns. Also Thursday, Trump sued to block New York prosecutors from their push to obtain the returns as part of a criminal investigation.
Trump has bucked decades of precedent by refusing to release them, arguing they are under audit.
England, an appointee of former Republican President George W. Bush, plans to issue a written ruling by Oct. 1, and California is expected to appeal.
The law signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in July says candidates for president must release five years of tax returns by November to run in the California primary, which is scheduled for March 2020.
Attorneys for Trump and the Republican Party argued the law violates the U.S. Constitution by adding an additional requirement to run for president. England also seemed open to their argument that a federal law requiring presidents to disclose financial information supersedes state law.
“I don’t care how you skin the cat, it’s an unconstitutional law,” said Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer for the state and national Republican parties.
Democratic state lawmakers have argued that tax returns provide critical information for voters because they show a candidate’s financial dealings, business interests and charitable giving.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, vetoed similar tax return legislation in 2017, arguing it would create a slippery slope of putting extra requirements on presidential candidates.
All the major Democratic presidential contenders have released their tax returns.
In a separate case involving the president’s tax returns, Trump filed a federal lawsuit against the Manhattan district attorney Thursday, his attorney said, seeking to stop the district attorney from subpoenaing Trump’s tax returns in a probe of hush-money payments during the 2016 election.
In the suit, Trump argues that District Attorney Cyrus Vance is conducting a criminal investigation of him, which he contends is not allowed under the Constitution.
That’s because the Constitution prohibits any prosecutor from investigating any sitting president for any criminal wrongdoing, he said.
If that were permitted, Trump said, it could give local authorities too much power to hamstring a president’s actions. “All you need is one prosecutor, one trial judge, the barest amount of probable cause, and a supportive local constituency, and you can shut down a presidency,” Trump’s complaint says, quoting law professor Jed Shugerman, according to a copy of the lawsuit posted online by CNN.
Instead, Trump argued, the power to investigate presidents was invested in Congress, which has the power to impeach and remove presidents for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
On Thursday, District Judge Victor Marrero ordered a hearing on the lawsuit for Sept. 25. Vance agreed to delay enforcement of the subpoena until after that hearing.
In this case, Vance subpoenaed Mazars USA, Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Trump’s attorneys said. He asked for eight years’ worth of tax returns for Trump and his businesses, plus a number of other financial documents, according to Trump’s complaint.
The investigation appears to focus on payments to two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who both say they had affairs with Trump years ago. Trump has denied their allegations.
The Washington Post contributed.
President Trump’s reelection campaign prevailed in its court challenge of a law requiring release of tax returns.