WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a final attempt by former President Donald J. Trump to protect his financial records short, unsigned order That ended Mr. Trump’s fierce 18 month struggle to stop Manhattan prosecutors from considering his tax returns while investigating possible financial crimes.
The court order was a decisive defeat for Mr Trump, who went to extraordinary lengths to keep his tax returns and related documents confidential and took his case to the Supreme Court twice. No disagreements were found.
From the start, Mr. Trump’s struggle to keep his return secret had tested the scope and limits of the president’s power. Last summer, the judges rejected Mr. Trump’s argument that prosecutors cannot investigate a seated president and ruled that no citizen was above the “common duty to produce evidence.” This time, the court denied Mr Trump’s urgency request to block a subpoena on his records, effectively ending the case.
The ruling is also a huge victory for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat. He now has access to Mr. Trump’s eight years’ worth of personal and corporate tax returns, as well as other financial records that investigators believe Mr. Vance to be instrumental in their investigation into whether the former president and his company tampered with property values in order to get them get bank loans and tax benefits.
“The work continues,” said Mr Vance in a statement.
In his own long statement, Mr. Trump commented on the Supreme Court decision and investigation. He characterized the investigation as a politically motivated attack by the New York Democrats and called it “a continuation of the greatest political witch hunt in our country’s history”. He also falsely reiterated that he won the 2020 election.
“The Supreme Court should never have allowed this ‘fishing expedition’, but they did,” Trump said. He added, “For more than two years, New York City has been reviewing almost every transaction I have ever conducted, including finding tax returns conducted by the largest and most reputable law and accounting firms in the United States.”
Prosecutors in Manhattan now face a monumental task. Dozens of investigators and forensic accountants go through millions of pages of financial documents. Mr. Vance brought in an outside consultancy and a former federal attorney with significant experience in white collar and organized crime cases to gain an insight into the arcana of commercial real estate and tax strategies.
The Supreme Court order set in motion a series of events that could lead to the appalling possibility of criminal proceedings against a former US president. At the very least, the ruling removes Mr. Trump’s control over his best-kept financial records and the power to decide when, if at all, they will be made available for public inspection.
The court’s decision concerned a grand jury subpoena issued by Mr. Vance’s office in August 2019 and sent to Mr. Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA. The company has announced that it will abide by the courts’ final decision, which means the grand jury should receive the documents in a short time. On Monday, Mazars issued a statement saying it “remains committed to all of our professional and legal obligations”.
The pivotal next phase of the Manhattan investigation will begin this week when investigators collect a huge amount of digital records from a law firm representing Mazars, according to people aware of the matter who spoke about the anonymity condition of the investigation because of the sensitivity of the investigation as well former prosecutors and others who described the next steps.
Armed with the subpoena, investigators will go to the law firm’s Westchester County office outside of New York City and take away copies of tax returns, financial reports, and other tax records and notices from Mr. Trump and those of his companies.
The investigation, which began in 2018, first looked at hush money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Mr Trump, relationships the former president has denied. However, since then, potential crimes such as insurance, tax and banking fraud have emerged.
Even before the Supreme Court ruling, Mr. Vance’s investigation had intensified as his office had issued more than a dozen subpoenas and interviewed witnesses in the past few months, including employees of Deutsche Bank, one of Mr. Trump’s top lenders.
One focus of Mr. Vance’s investigation is whether Mr. Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, has increased the value of some of its signature properties in order to get the best possible credit while lowering values to lower property taxes, those of the Knowing have said of the matter. Prosecutors are also looking into statements by the Trump Organization to insurance companies about the value of various assets.
Mazars’ records – including tax returns, the business records on which they are based, and communications between the Trump Organization and its accountants – can allow investigators to get a more complete picture of possible discrepancies between what the company claims to its lenders and the company Get tax authorities said the people.
It remains unclear whether prosecutors will ultimately bring charges against Mr. Trump, the company, or any of its executives, including Mr. Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
The court order will not place Mr. Trump’s tax returns in the hands of Congress or automatically publish them. The grand jury’s secrecy laws keep the records private unless Mr. Vance’s office charges and brings the documents into evidence in a lawsuit.
The New York Times received tax return data for more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his corporate organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office.
Last year, the Times published a series of research articles based on an analysis of the data that showed that Mr Trump had paid virtually no income tax for many years and that he is undergoing an audit where a negative decision could cost him more than $ 100 million. He and his companies file separate tax returns and employ complicated and sometimes aggressive tax strategies.
As a candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump promised to disclose his tax returns, but he never did, breaking White House tradition. Instead, for reasons that have been speculated about, he fought hard to keep the returns out of control.
In 2019, Mr Trump went to court to combat the subpoena, arguing that as the seated president he was safe from criminal investigation. The United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled against this argument, and prosecutors may require third parties to produce a sitting president’s financial records for use in a grand jury investigation.
Mr Trump appealed to the Supreme Court. In July 2020, the judges resolutely rejected Mr Trump’s central constitutional argument against the subpoena in a landmark ruling.
“No citizen, not even the President, is categorically above the general duty to produce evidence when requested in a criminal case,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in this decision.
Although Judges Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. disagree on other aspects of the decision, all nine judges agreed to the proposal. But the court gave Mr. Trump another opportunity to challenge the subpoena on more specific grounds.
Mr Trump did just that, arguing that the subpoena was too broad and constituted political harassment. These arguments were rejected by a trial judge and the New York federal appeals court. The appeals court found that the documents handed over to the grand jury would not be published, undermining the argument that Mr Vance was trying to embarrass Mr Trump.
“There is nothing to suggest that these are anything but ordinary documents that are normally relevant to a grand jury investigation into possible financial or corporate misconduct,” the court said in an unsigned opinion.
Mr. Trump’s attorneys then filed an “emergency motion”. ask the Supreme Court to stand up for him. They asked the court to block the appellate court’s decision while it decided whether to hear another appeal from Mr Trump, arguing that the president would suffer irreparable damage if the grand jury saw his financial records.
In answerMr. Vance’s attorneys referred to the Times articles. The cat, they said, was out of the pocket. “With the details of his tax returns now published, the confidentiality interests alleged by the applicant have been severely weakened, if they survive at all,” said Vance.
In addition to judging the subpoena from Mr. Vance’s office, Mr. Trump sued the suspension of a Congressional subpoena for his return and successfully challenged California law requiring presidential candidates to clear their return.
Legal experts said the court order effectively ended Mr Trump’s legal search and further attempts to thwart the subpoena could undermine his defense.
“Trump is not respected as a former president,” said Anne Milgram, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney who later served as attorney general in New Jersey and was critical of Mr. Trump. “Under the laws of New York State, he has the same rights as others in the state. Neither more nor less. “
Jonah E. Bromwich and Maggie Haberman contributed to the coverage. Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.