NEW YORK — A federal judge on Monday dismissed President Donald Trump’s effort to prevent his tax returns from being turned over to a New York grand jury.
The ruling raises the likelihood that Trump’s tax returns will be provided in response to the subpoena, although any material obtained through a grand jury subpoena is covered by grand jury secrecy rules, meaning it would likely become public only if it were used as evidence at a trial.
Dismissing Trump’s “extraordinary” claim that any occupant of the White House enjoys “absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind,” US District Court Judge Victor Marrero said in a 75-page opinion that such a position “would constitute an overreach of executive power.”
An attorney for Trump filed an emergency notice of appeal to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals minutes after the district court judge filed his decision, and the appeals court immediately ordered a temporary stay of the subpoena.
In a tweet Monday, Trump criticized the legal effort.
“The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts, so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!” Trump tweeted.
Prosecutors are looking at whether the Trump Organization violated any New York state laws — including potentially filing false business records — in its effort to reimburse Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, who paid some of the hush money on Trump’s behalf. Cohen is serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty in a federal case concerning the payments.
As part of its probe, the DA’s office sent Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, a grand jury subpoena seeking tax returns and related documents going back to 2011. On Monday, a spokeswoman for the company said, “Mazars USA will respect the legal process and fully comply with its legal obligations.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, led by Cyrus Vance, Jr., is examining hush money paid during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who alleged having affairs with Trump a decade ago. Trump has denied the affairs.
Ability to challenge the President
In his opinion, Marrero allowed that some aspects of the criminal process could impede a President’s ability to perform his duties. “Certainly lengthy imprisonment upon conviction would produce that result,” he wrote.
But, Marrero added, “that consequence would not necessarily follow every stage of every criminal proceeding,” and in particular, he said, doesn’t extend to a president’s compliance with a grand jury subpoena for records the president controls.
The judge wrote that the issues at hand stretched back to questions addressed by the Founding Fathers.
“Shunning the concept of the inviolability of the person of the King of England and the bounds of the monarch’s protective screen covering the Crown’s actions from legal scrutiny, the Founders disclaimed any notion that the Constitution generally conferred similarly all-encompassing immunity upon the President,” Marrero wrote.
Courts have ruled that a president can be subjected to a civil suit concerning conduct that took place before he took office and must comply with subpoenas regarding third parties, Marrero pointed out. “The notion of federal supremacy and presidential immunity from judicial process that the President here invokes, unqualified and boundless in its reach as described above, cuts across the grain of these constitutional precedents,” he wrote.
The ruling is also a setback for the US Justice Department, which had asked last week to temporarily block the subpoena, to allow time for “appropriate briefing of the weighty constitutional issues involved.”
“The President’s complaint raises a number of significant constitutional issues that potentially implicate important interests of the United States,” DOJ officials wrote in a court filing.
This story has been updated.