Trump wins short delay in effort to shield financial records from prosecutors
WASHINGTON – President Trump won some breathing room Tuesday in his latest effort to keep his tax returns and financial records away from New York prosecutors.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit temporarily blocked enforcement of the Manhattan district attorney's subpoena to Mazars USA, the president's accounting firm, so it can decide on Trump's claim that it's a "fishing expedition."
But the court set up a brisk schedule, including oral argument on Sept. 25, that likely means it will rule in a matter of weeks. Unless it reverses a federal district court's decision upholding the subpoena, that would leave only the Supreme Court as a last resort for the president.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is investigating hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential race to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, allegations Trump has denied. But Vance recently suggested the probe goes further and involves the Trump Organization.
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero last month rejected Trump's efforts to keep his records from Manhattan prosecutors – another blow to the president, who has unsuccessfully fought the subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court once and is likely to wind up there again.
Trump's attorneys have claimed that he is immune from criminal investigations and that the subpoena was overly broad and was issued in bad faith. The president also has cast the Manhattan investigation as a political "witch hunt."
The Supreme Court shot down Trump's claim of absolute immunity in a 7-2 ruling in July but said his lawyers could challenge the subpoena on other grounds in federal district court. For the time being, that means the public won't see Trump's financial documents because grand jury investigations are secret.
In his latest 103-page ruling, Marrero said the president isn't entitled to special privilege in the judicial process. He said Trump's broad claims of absolute immunity, which the Supreme Court rejected in July, could have adverse legal consequences.
More:Supreme Court says President Trump cannot keep tax, financial records from prosecutors
"At its core, it amounts to absolute immunity through a back door, an entry point through which not only a president but also potentially other persons and entities, public and private, could effectively gain cover from judicial process," Marrero wrote.
Last month, Vance suggested that his office's investigation goes beyond the hush money payments and that prosecutors are looking broadly at the president's business. Prosecutors cited public reporting on "possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization."
During a brief hearing before a three-judge appeals court panel Tuesday, Trump attorney William Consovoy repeated his assertion that the subpoena represents a fishing expedition and a form of harassment.
"The president will be irreparably injured if those records are disclosed," Consovoy said.
Judge John Walker, the lone panel member appointed by a Republican president, wondered whether the subpoena might be overly broad and "engage in some fishing."
But Carey Dunne, general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney's office, said Trump's attorneys have no reason to suspect that the investigation ever was limited to hush money payments.
The appeals court previously rejected Trump's first effort to quash the subpoena last December – an indication the president may fare no better this time.