Trump’s lawyer argues tax return subpoena ‘unenforceable’

Trump does not want his tax returns released. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump asked the conservative-majority US Supreme Court yesterday to reverse a lower court ruling that directed his longtime accounting firm to hand over eight years of his tax returns to New York prosecutors.

Trump appealed a Nov 4 ruling by the New York-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals that prosecutors can enforce a subpoena demanding his personal and corporate tax returns from 2011 to 2018 from accounting firm Mazars LLP.

“In our petition, we assert that the subpoena violates the US Constitution and therefore is unenforceable,” said Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers.

“We are hopeful the Supreme Court will grant review in this significant constitutional case and reverse the dangerous and damaging decision of the appeals court.”

The legal questions include whether the subpoena violates the part of the US Constitution that lays out the power of the president.

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, is seeking the returns as part of a criminal investigation into Trump and the Trump Organisation, the president’s family real estate business.

Trump’s lawyers have said he cannot be subjected to any criminal process while he remains president, a broad interpretation of presidential immunity.

Even if he is not immune, the subpoena is not valid because Vance has not shown any specific need for the information, Trump’s lawyers argued.

“There has been broad bipartisan agreement, for decades if not for centuries, that a sitting president cannot be subjected to criminal proceedings,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

Vance’s investigation involves alleged hush money payments to two women prior to the 2016 election who said they had sexual relationships with Trump, which he denies.

Those payments were made to Stormy Daniels, a porn star whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, with the help of Trump’s now-imprisoned former lawyer Michael Cohen.

If the justices decline to hear Trump’s appeal, the lower court ruling would stand, clearing the way for Vance to obtain the documents.

If they opt to take up the appeal, the justices then must decide whether to hear the case in their current term, which ends in June, or in their next term that begins in October 2020, likely pushing any decision until after the November 2020 presidential election.

Vance agreed not to seek enforcement of the subpoena while Trump appealed the matter on an expedited schedule.

Trump, who built a real estate empire with his New York-based business before becoming president, also faces an impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led US House of Representatives.

In a separate case in which the president has unsuccessfully fought efforts by House Democrats to obtain his financial records from Mazars, Trump’s lawyers are due to file an emergency application at the Supreme Court today, Sekulow said.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Oct 11 ruled in favour of the House.

The same court on Wednesday declined to rehear that case, prompting Trump to turn to the high court.

The court’s 5-4 conservative majority includes two justices Trump appointed: Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Neil Gorsuch in 2017.

Trump has prevailed at the Supreme Court on major issues such as his travel ban on people entering the United States from several Muslim-majority countries, but some legal experts have predicted that he may not fare as well on cases focusing on his personal conduct.

The House impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump’s request in a July phone call for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival, Joe Biden, the former vice-president and a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination to face Trump.