Judge blocks Cal­i­for­nia law seek­ing Trump’s tax re­turns

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD -

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.

NI­CHOLAS KAMM/GETTY-AFP

Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­elec­tion cam­paign pre­vailed in its court chal­lenge of a law re­quir­ing re­lease of tax re­turns.

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