US Supreme Court sets the stage for release of Trump tax returns

23 February 2021 - 07:57 By Reuters
Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Image: REUTERS/Cheriss May/File Photo

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 records as part of an accelerating 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.

Trump issued a statement describing Vance's investigation as part of “the greatest political witch hunt in the history of our country,” accusing New York Democrats of expending their energy on taking down a political opponent instead of tackling violent crimes.

“That's fascism, not justice — and that is exactly what they are trying to do with respect to me, except that the people of our Country won't stand for it,” Trump added.

The Supreme Court's action does not require Trump to do anything. The records involved in the dispute were requested from a third-party, Mazars, not Trump himself. Vance previously told Trump's lawyers his office would be free to immediately enforce the subpoena if the justices rejected Trump's request.

A Mazars spokesperson said the company “remains committed to fulfilling all of our professional and legal obligations.”

Unlike all other recent US presidents, Trump refused 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.

The Supreme Court's action, which followed Vance's hiring this month of a prominent lawyer with deep experience in white-collar and organised-crime cases, could boost the district attorney's investigation into the Trump Organization following a flurry of recent subpoenas.

Reuters reported on Friday that Vance's office had subpoenaed a New York City property tax agency, suggesting prosecutors are examining Trump's efforts to reduce his commercial real-estate taxes for possible evidence of fraud.

The Supreme Court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees, had already ruled once in the subpoena dispute, last July rejecting Trump's broad argument that he was immune from criminal probes as a sitting president.

Trump, who left office on Jan. 20 after losing the Nov. 3 election to Democrat Joe Biden, continues to face an array of legal issues concerning personal and business conduct.

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

The Supreme Court in July rejected those arguments but said Trump could raise other subpoena objections. Trump's lawyers then told lower courts the subpoena was overly broad and amounted to political harassment. US District Judge Victor Marrero in August and the New York-based second US Circuit Court of Appeals in October rejected those claims.

Vance's investigation initially focused on hush money paid by Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen before the 2016 election to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. The two women said they had sexual encounters with Trump, which he denied.

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

“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.

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

In separate litigation, the Democratic-led US House of Representatives is seeking similar Trump records from Mazars and Deutsche Bank.

The New York Times reported last year that Trump had paid $750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017, and no income taxes in 10 of the prior 15 years, reflecting chronic business losses that he used to avoid paying taxes. Trump has disputed the Times report.

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