Appeals court to hear showdown over Trump taxes

Image: President Donald Trump exits the Oval Office on Oct. 25, 2017.
President Donald Trump exits the Oval Office on Oct. 25, 2017. -
Al Drago Bloomberg via Getty Images file
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Lawyers for President Donald Trump on Wednesday will urge a federal appeals court to block New York City prosecutors from getting access to the president's tax returns and company business records in a case likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance obtained a grand jury subpoena for three years' worth of financial records from the Trump Organization and for Trump-related business records going back to 2011 — including his personal tax records — from the accounting firm Mazars USA. Vance's prosecutors are investigating whether Trump or his company broke any state laws when they reimbursed former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for hush-money payments.

Cohen, now serving a three-year federal prison sentence, admitted paying adult film star Stormy Daniels to prevent her from publicly claiming during the presidential campaign that she once had a sexual relationship with Trump — an allegation Trump has repeatedly denied.

The president's lawyers sued to block the subpoenas, arguing that he is immune from state prosecutions. But in early October, federal district court Judge Victor Marrero tossed the lawsuit out, ruling that the immunity claim was "repugnantto the nation's governmental structure and constitutional values."

Vance argued that no president is immune from responding to a subpoena in a criminal case, noting that President Richard Nixon turned over White House tapes in response to a subpoena. Whatever protection a president might have from the normal criminal process, it cannot shield him from "any grand jury request for information about his conduct or that of his businesses or employees before he took office," Vance said.

The president's legal team, led by William Consovoy of Virginia, argued the nation's founders did not intend the president to be subject to local prosecutions. "A lone county prosecutor cannot circumvent this arrangement," they said. "That the Constitution empowers thousands of state and local prosecutors to embroil the president in criminal proceedings is unimaginable."

The subject of impeachment has been raised by both sides in the current dispute. Trump's lawyers have argued that impeachment, not the criminal process, is the only means for investigating and removing a president. But Vance said Trump has also refused to participate in the current impeachment inquiry. "His core position on every one of these matters is that the United States presidency places him beyond the reach of the law," his office wrote.

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York is hearing the case on a fast track, and lawyers for both sides have agreed to seek immediate review from the Supreme Court. Vance's office has also agreed to hold off on enforcing the subpoenas at least until the justices decide whether to take the case.

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