A federal judge said that Donald Trump’s tax returns could be released to local prosecutors in New York, in a ruling that rejected the president’s sweeping claims of immunity from criminal investigation.
The decision on Monday, which was immediately appealed by Mr Trump’s lawyers, handed a victory to the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, who is investigating possible crimes linked to hush money payments made by Mr Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, during the 2016 election.
An appeals court granted Mr Trump an emergency stay on the enforcement of the subpoena on Monday pending an “expedited review” of the case.
Last month, Mr Vance subpoenaed eight years of personal and corporate tax returns from Mazars, the accounting firm used by Mr Trump and his company, The Trump Organization.
The president sued to block the release of the returns, adding to a growing list of lawsuits Mr Trump has filed to block scrutiny of his administration and his business affairs. The Department of Justice also sought a temporary block on the subpoenas, noting the “weighty constitutional issues involved”.
The justice department has long held that sitting presidents are immune from federal indictment, but has allowed investigations to proceed nonetheless, most recently in Robert Mueller’s probe of whether Mr Trump obstructed justice. Mr Trump’s attorneys went further in their lawsuit against Mr Vance, arguing the president was immune from any form of criminal investigation, including by state authorities.
In the ruling on Monday, Judge Victor Marrero said that Mr Trump’s argument was, in effect, that “not only the president, but, derivatively, relatives and persons and business entities associated with him in potentially unlawful private activities, are in fact above the law”.
He called the proposition “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values”.
A spokeswoman for Mazars, the accounting firm, said: “Mazars USA will respect the legal process and fully comply with its legal obligations.”
The Manhattan district attorney’s office, and attorneys for Mr Trump did not immediately return emails seeking comment.
Mr Trump, who is battling an impeachment inquiry led by Democrats the House of Representatives, expressed his displeasure with the lower court’s decision in a tweet on Monday. “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!”