Trump lawyers, prosecutors argue in court over president’s taxes

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance seeks Trump’s tax returns in an investigation into possible tax and insurance fraud in addition to hush payments.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr has been litigating for access to Donald Trump's tax returns [File: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

With the United States presidential election looming, lawyers for Donald Trump will ask a federal appeals court on Friday to block Manhattan’s top prosecutor from obtaining the president’s tax returns in connection with a criminal probe into Trump and his businesses.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from lawyers for Trump and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, whose investigation began more than two years ago.

The investigation has been stalled as Trump fights an August 2019 grand jury subpoena to his accounting firm Mazars USA for eight years of his corporate and personal tax returns.

Vance began his probe after Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid hush money to silence two women before the 2016 election about claimed sexual encounters with Trump.

The US Supreme Court ruled in July that a sitting president cannot evade criminal investigations, ruling that a prosecutor in New York City can obtain President Donald Trump’s financial records [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

The probe now appears to go beyond the payments, with Vance saying in court filings he might have grounds to investigate Trump and his businesses for tax and insurance fraud, and that possible bank fraud might also be examined.

Trump’s lawyers have said the subpoena was “wildly overbroad”, issued in bad faith, and part of a “fishing expedition” designed to harass him.

Vance is a Democrat, and Trump is a Republican.

Friday’s arguments follow the US Supreme Court’s July 9 rejection of Trump’s claim he was absolutely immune from criminal probes while in the White House.

The Supreme Court said Trump could raise other challenges to the subpoena. Trump has said he expects a return to that court if the appeals court rules against him, as it did last November.

In an August 20 ruling, US District Judge Victor Marrero said Vance should obtain the returns, saying Trump’s effort to prolong the dispute could cause statutes of limitations to run out and give him the immunity the Supreme Court rejected.

“Justice requires an end to this controversy,” Marrero wrote.

Trump’s lawyers want the case returned to Marrero so he can review the substance of the president’s arguments, rather than treat them as a repackaging of his immunity claim.

Though the appeal was fast-tracked, the public is unlikely to know what is in Trump’s tax returns before the November 3 election.

Grand jury proceedings are secret, and if Vance gets the returns it could be months before their contents become public.

All three judges on the appeals court panel were appointed by Democratic presidents, as was Marrero.