WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a final attempt by former President Donald J. Trump to protect his financial records, issuing a brief unsigned order requiring Mr. Trump’s accountants to turn over his taxes and other records to New York prosecutors York.
The court order was a decisive defeat for Mr. Trump, who had gone to great lengths to keep his tax returns and related documents secret. No disagreement was noted.
The case involved a subpoena to Mr. Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA, by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat. The cabinet said it would comply with the courts’ final ruling, which means the grand jury should receive the documents as soon as possible.
Mr. Vance made a three word statement in response to the court order: “The work continues.”
Under the rules of grand jury secrecy, it would generally be difficult to know when, if at all, the public would see the information. But The New York Times has obtained more than two decades of data on the tax returns of Mr. Trump and his companies, and recently published a series of articles about them.
Mr Trump, according to the reports, has suffered significant losses, owes huge debts that he is personally obligated to repay, has avoided paying federal income taxes in 11 of the 18 years the Times examined, and only paid $ 750 in 2016 and 2017.
The scope of Mr. Vance’s investigation is not known. This stems in part from an investigation by his office into quiet payments to two women who said they had had relationships with Mr. Trump, relationships the president denied. But prosecutors’ judicial statements suggest they are also investigating potential crimes such as tax and insurance fraud.
The subpoena targeted Mr. Trump’s tax records and financial statements since 2011, the 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, Mr. Trump promised to disclose his tax returns, but he never did. Instead, he fought to protect returns from scrutiny, for reasons that have been the subject of much speculation. In 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City ruled that state attorneys can require third parties to turn over the financial records of a sitting president for an investigation before a grand jury.
In a footnote to the ruling, Judge Robert A. Katzmann said Mr. Trump’s break with the practice of his predecessors was significant.
“We note that the last six presidents, dating back to President Carter, have all voluntarily released their tax returns to the public,” Judge Katzmann wrote. “While we do not give this fact decisive weight, it reinforces our conclusion that disclosure of personal financial information, by itself, is not likely to hamper the President in the performance of his duties.”
Mr. Trump appealed to the Supreme Court. In July, judges firmly rejected Mr. 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 obligation to produce evidence when called upon in criminal proceedings,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in this decision.
Although Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. disagree with other aspects of the decision, all nine judges agreed with the proposition. But the court gave Mr Trump another opportunity to challenge the subpoena, on a more limited basis.
“A president can enjoy the same protections as all other citizens,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts. “These include the right to challenge the summons on any ground permitted by state law, which typically includes bad faith and excessive burden or magnitude.”
This is exactly what Mr. Trump did, but his arguments were rejected by a trial judge and a three-judge unanimous panel of the New York Federal Court of Appeal.
“All documents produced in connection with Mazars’ subpoena would be protected from public disclosure by the rules of grand jury secrecy,” the panel said in an unsigned notice, “which greatly reduces the plausibility of the allegation that the district attorney acts out of desire to embarrass The President. “
“There is nothing to suggest,” the panel added of the information sought, “that these are not mundane documents generally relevant to a grand jury investigation into possible financial or corporate misconduct. . “
Mr. Trump’s lawyers then filed an “emergency request” asking the Supreme Court to intercede. He urged the court to block the appeal court’s decision while it decides to hear another appeal from Mr. Trump.
“Even if the disclosure of his papers is limited to prosecutors and grand jurors, the status quo can never be restored once confidentiality is destroyed,” said the brief. “But the damage will be more than irreparable if the records are made public. It will be an argument – the strongest possible basis for a stay. “
In response, lawyers for Mr. Vance – including Carey R. Dunne, who first argued the case; Walter E. Dellinger III, former Acting Solicitor General of the United States in the Clinton administration; and Michael R. Dreeben, a longtime former Deputy Solicitor General and member of the team that helped Robert S. Mueller III investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election – the Times reported. The cat, they said, was out of the bag.
“The New York Times got its tax return data and describes that data in depth in a series of articles,” Mr. Vance said. “With the details of his tax returns now public, the privacy interests claimed by the claimant have become very mitigated if they survive. And even assuming that some remain, they cannot justify an extraordinary remedy from this tribunal which would deprive the only grand jury of the facts available to anyone who reads the press.
“This litigation has already considerably hampered the grand jury investigation,” the brief said. “There is no legal basis for the extraordinary remedy that the plaintiff seeks – or remotely justifies the additional delay it entails.”