NEW YORK - A federal appeals court on Tuesday blocked a New York prosecutor from obtaining Donald Trump’s tax returns while the president's lawyers continue to fight a subpoena seeking the records. The three-judge panel ruled after hearing brief arguments from both sides.
Trump's lawyers had asked for a temporary stay while they appeal a lower-court ruling that granted Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office access to Trump's tax returns. A lawyer for Vance's office had argued that further delays would only impede their investigation.
“The question at this juncture is quite simple but also quite important,” Trump lawyer William Consovoy said. “Will the president be given an opportunity to appeal that ruling before his personal records are disclosed to the grand jury and the status quo is irrevocably changed?”
A hearing on the merits of Trump's latest appeal will be held on Sept. 25 after both sides agreed to an expedited schedule — meaning it's possible the matter could be decided before November's election.
Trump’s lawyers appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month after a district court judge rejected their renewed efforts to invalidate a subpoena issued to his accounting firm. Judge John M. Walker Jr. said at Tuesday's hearing that the subpoenas cover 11 entities engaged in business dealings as far away as Europe and Dubai.
Trump has blasted the long-running quest for his financial records as a “continuation of the most disgusting witch hunt in the history of our country” and predicted the case would again end up before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled last month that the presidency in itself doesn’t shield Trump from Vance’s investigation, but the high court returned the case to U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero’s courtroom to allow Trump’s lawyers to raise other concerns about the subpoena.
Trump's lawyers then argued that the subpoena was issued in bad faith and overly broad, might have been politically motivated and amounted to harassment. Marrero rejected those claims. Consovoy told the judges Tuesday that the investigation was an “arbitrary fishing expedition.”
Carey Dunne, of the district attorney's office, said Trump and his lawyers have long misrepresented the scope of the investigation as focusing primarily on hush money payments that were paid to protect Trump from adultery allegations. Vance’s lawyers have said they are legally entitled to extensive records to aid a “complex financial investigation.”
“The president has complained at every turn that we’ve not announced what the grand jury is looking at as if that itself is bad faith,” Dunne said. “But of course, what the grand jury is looking at is secret. We’re not allowed to make that public, which is what has led to his speculation about the grand jury scope. But none of this speculation is plausible.”
Even if Vance does get Trump’s tax records, those would be part of a confidential grand jury investigation and not automatically be made public.
Vance, a Democrat, began seeking the Republican president’s tax returns from his longtime accounting firm over a year ago, after Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen told Congress that the president had misled tax officials, insurers and business associates about the value of his assets.
Congress is also pursuing Trump’s financial records, though the Supreme Court last month kept a hold on the banking and other documents that Congress has been seeking and returned the case to a lower court.
Trump is the only modern president who has refused to release his tax returns. Before he was elected, he had promised to do so.