A federal appeals court on Monday rejected President Donald Trump's effort to block New York prosecutors from accessing his tax records for which Trump made sweeping claims of presidential immunity.
In trying to block a subpoena for his private financial records from New York prosecutors investigating hush-money payments made before the 2016 election, Trump's attorneys have argued that as president Trump is immune not only from prosecution but also from investigations.
But in the ruling, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that "any presidential immunity from a state criminal process does not bar the enforcement of such subpoena."
Rebutting the argument that allowing the case to proceed would hinder the president in his official duties, Chief Judge Robert Katzmann said that Trump was not at risk of imminent arrest or imprisonment -- and wasn't required to do anything.
"The subpoena at issue is directed not at the President, but to his accountants; compliance does not require the President to do anything at all," Katzmann wrote. He was joined by Capital judges Denny Chin and Christopher Droney, all of whom were nominated by Democratic presidents.
Katzmann noted in the unanimous ruling that Trump had conceded that his immunity would last only as long as he held office and he could therefore be prosecuted after stepping down.
"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.
The ruling does not mean that Trump's tax records will be turned over immediately. Trump plans to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, according to Jay Sekulow, counsel to the president.
"The decision of the Second Circuit will be taken to the Supreme Court," Sekulow said in a statement. "The issue raised in this case goes to the heart of our Republic. The constitutional issues are significant."
That appeal is due 10 days from the appeals court decision, per an agreement between prosecutors and the plaintiffs. A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, declined to comment.
One of Trump's private attorneys, William Consovoy, had argued in the case that Trump enjoys "temporary presidential immunity" from investigations or prosecution while president, immunity that he argued would extend even if the president were to shoot someone.
Monday's decision marked the second time in recent weeks that a federal appeals court has ruled against the president in his bid to stop investigators from scrutinizing his private financial records.
Prosecutors agreed to delay enforcement of the subpoena to Trump's longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, if the president's lawyers move quickly to ask the Supreme Court to intervene.
During oral arguments last month, Consovoy told the court that the subpoena is a politically motivated "fishing expedition." A sitting president, he said, cannot be investigated -- or prosecuted -- while in office, even for shooting someone on the streets of Manhattan. His assertion of "temporary presidential immunity" came in response to a question about Trump's own hypothetical from 2016, when he said as a candidate his political support was so strong that he could "stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody" and not "lose any voters."
The Justice Department, led by William Barr, had also weighed in, writing in court filings that Vance's subpoena should be blocked for now but not adopting Trump's absolutist view that a sitting president could never be subject to criminal investigation.
Although the United States is not a party to the lawsuit, it has the right to give its views.
In an appellate brief, the Justice Department wrote that Vance's office should not be able to obtain the president's personal records unless it could show that they were central to the investigation, not available elsewhere and were needed immediately, rather than after Trump leaves office.
"A subpoena directed at a president's records should be permitted only as a last resort," the department wrote.
The appeals court upheld an October ruling from U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, who dismissed Trump's lawsuit. Marrero rejected Trump's claim of immunity as "repugnant to the nation's fundamental structure and constitutional values."
The case began in August after Vance's office subpoenaed Mazars for eight years of the president's tax records and other financial documents. The office is examining whether any state laws were broken in connection with the 2016 payments to silence two women who said they had affairs with Trump.
Internal Justice Department legal opinions say sitting presidents cannot be charged by federal prosecutors. But those guidelines do not apply to Vance, an elected New York prosecutor who enforces state laws.
Vance's investigation followed the conviction last year of Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations. Cohen said Trump directed him to make payments and reimbursed him later, after Cohen paid Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to keep allegations of affairs with Trump secret before the election.
Vance has said that at this stage of the investigation, Trump "has not been identified as a defendant, nor is there an assumption he will be."
Trump has denied the relationships and any wrongdoing connected to the payments.
The president is fighting similar attempts by congressional Democrats to obtain his tax records. Last month, the federal appeals court in Washington upheld Congress' broad investigative powers and rejected Trump's request to block a House subpoena for his accounting firm's records.
A different panel of the 2nd Circuit is considering a separate lawsuit from the president aimed at stopping Deutsche Bank and Capital One from handing over his records to two other House committees.
Information for this article was contributed by Jonathan O'Connell, Ann E. Marimow, Deanna Paul and Carol D. Leonnig of The Washington Post; and by Benjamin Weiser of The New York Times.
A Section on 11/05/2019
Print Headline: Tax ruling goes against Trump; high court appeal planned