US supreme court paves way for release of Donald Trump's tax returns

22 February 2021 - 17:53
By Lawrence Hurley
Former US president Donald Trump at the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, US, on December 12 2020.
Image: REUTERS/Cheriss May Former US president Donald Trump at the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, US, on December 12 2020.

Donald Trump suffered a major setback on Monday in his long quest to conceal details of his finances as the US supreme court paved the way for a New York City prosecutor to obtain the former president's tax returns and other financial records as part of a criminal investigation.

The justices without comment rebuffed Trump's request to put on hold an October 7 lower court ruling directing the Republican businessman-turned-politician's longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, to comply with a subpoena to turn over the materials to a grand jury convened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat.

"The work continues," Vance said in a statement issued after the court's action.

Vance had previously said in a letter to Trump's lawyers that his office would be free to immediately enforce the subpoena if the justices rejected Trump's request.

A lawyer for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The supreme court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority included three Trump appointees, had already ruled once in the dispute, last July rejecting Trump's broad argument that he was immune from criminal probes as a sitting president.

Unlike all other recent US presidents, Trump refused during his four years in office to make his tax returns public. The data could provide details on his wealth and the activities of his family real-estate company, the Trump Organization.

Trump, who left office on January 20 after being defeated in his November 3 re-election bid by Democrat Joe Biden, continues to face an array of legal issues concerning his personal and business conduct.

Vance issued a subpoena to Mazars in August 2019 seeking Trump's corporate and personal tax returns from 2011 to 2018. Trump's lawyers sued to block the subpoena, arguing that as a sitting president, Trump had absolute immunity from state criminal investigations.

The supreme court in its July ruling rejected those arguments but said Trump could raise other objections to the subpoena. Trump's lawyers then argued before lower courts that the subpoena was overly broad and amounted to political harassment, but US district judge Victor Marrero in August and the New York-based 2nd US circuit court of appeals in October rejected those claims.

Trump will, for the first time, have to take responsibility for his own dirty deeds
Michael Cohen

Vance's investigation, which began more than two years ago, had focused on hush money payments that the then-president's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen made before the 2016 election to two women - adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal - who said they had sexual encounters with Trump.

"The supreme court has now proclaimed that no one is above the law. Trump will, for the first time, have to take responsibility for his own dirty deeds," Cohen said in a statement issued after the supreme court announced its action.

The court on Monday separately turned away Daniels' bid to revive her own defamation lawsuit against Trump.

In recent court filings, Vance has suggested that the probe is now broader and could focus on potential bank, tax and insurance fraud, as well as falsification of business records.

In separate litigation, the Democratic-led US House of Representatives was seeking to enforce subpoenas on similar records. The supreme court in July sent that matter back to lower courts for further review. 

- Reuters