Appeals court rules Manhattan DA can subpoena Trump tax returns

A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE can't block the Manhattan District Attorney's Office from subpoenaing his accounting firm for tax returns and financial records, delivering a blow to the president's claim that he is immune to criminal investigations.

A three-judge panel on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said on Monday that "presidential immunity does not bar the enforcement of a state grand jury subpoena directing a third party to produce non-privileged material, even when the subject matter under investigation pertains to the President."


But the court noted they were not ruling on all of the sweeping assertions of immunity that the president's lawyers have claimed. All three of the judges were appointed by Democratic presidents.

The case has rapidly made its way through the courts. In August, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. subpoenaed the accounting firm Mazars for Trump's financial records, in part to investigate alleged "hush money" payments the president had made in 2016 to two women who say they had affairs with him.

Trump's attorneys began to comply before suing to block the subpoena when they learned that Vance's office was also seeking the president's tax returns for the past eight years.The lawsuit accused Vance of participating in a "campaign of bad-faith investigations and harassment of the president."

A district court judge threw out the lawsuit, prompting a quick appeal from Trump's lawyers and an expedited schedule from the Second Circuit.

The ruling sets the stage for a potential battle before the Supreme Court, where Trump's legal team has vowed to take the fight.

During a hearing before the panel last month, Trump's personal lawyer had argued that a sitting president enjoys blanket immunity from criminal prosecution and even investigations while in office, going so far as to claim that local authorities could not investigate him even if he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

In the opinion authored by 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, the panel refused to rule on whether Trump could be prosecuted while in office, but said that any legal immunity that he enjoys doesn't extend to a subpoena of his accountants.

"There is no obvious reason why a state could not begin to investigate a President during his term and, with the information secured during that search, ultimately determine to prosecute him after he leaves office," Katzmann wrote.

While the panel rejected a request for an injunction of the subpoena, Vance has agreed not to enforce it until the legal questions at the heart of the case are settled. His office and Trump's attorneys have agreed to fast-track the case to the Supreme Court in the hopes of getting it before the justices this term.

The agreement requires Trump's attorneys to petition the Supreme Court within ten days after the circuit court's decision. Trump's lead attorney, William Consovoy, did not respond when asked for comment.

Updated at 12:01 p.m.


Second Circuit 110419 Opinion by M Mali on Scribd