Appeals Court Rules Against Trump on Tax Returns

Published on November 4, 2019 by Athena Pallas

Today a federal appeals court ruled that President Trump cannot block the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office from subpoenaing Trump’s accounting firm for Trump’s tax returns and other accounting records. Trump’s side, which had made the appeal after losing in a lower court, attempted to argue that a sitting president has such broad immunity from criminal prosecution that even such an investigation as this must be blocked. In making that argument, one of Trump’s lawyers had even referenced something Trump had said as a candidate in a different context, that Trump could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue in New York City and still not be subject to investigation. Trump’s original assertion as a candidate was that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and still not lose votes, because his supporters were so ardent.

Today’s ruling came from a three judge panel on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court did not rule on the larger question of whether a president can be criminally prosecuted during their term in office, only that a president can be criminally investigated while in office. On that point 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Robert Katzmann wrote, according to The Hill, that “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.” So, as a component of an investigation, the subpoena to Trump’s accounting firm still stands, per the appeals court ruling. According to The Hill:

A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that President Trump 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.

Trump’s side will no doubt appeal today’s ruling as well, and the battle over this issue is expected ultimately to go to Supreme Court. If/when that happens, Trump may be hoping that the two justices he has placed on the court will be on his side, swaying the overall vote in his direction. That of course remains to be seen, however. Trump’s fight not to reveal his tax returns has certainly injected a delay in their being revealed, but his court battles over them have so far not been successful.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.