News and Commentary

President Trump Loses Appeal To Protect Financial Records
U.S. President Donald Trump closes his eyes during a prayer before a meeting of his cabinet in the Cabinet Room at the White House October 17, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

An appeals court in New York ruled against President Donald Trump Monday, rejecting the president’s bid to protect his financial records, including possibly his tax returns, from zealous New York City prosecutors.

A three-judge appeals panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit issued the unanimous decision, taking pains to refuse the president’s argument that his status provides him absolute immunity from grand jury investigations of criminal conduct that allegedly occurred before his election, according to USA Today.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. is seeking eight years of Trump’s financial records from third party banks in order to investigate whether the president and his attorneys made improper payments to women alleged to have had affairs with Trump, in order to keep them quiet during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The prosecutor isn’t alone; Democrats are also seeking Trump’s financial records from institutions like Deutch Bank in order to see whether the President had financial relationships with Russian officials. Trump’s lawyers are also challenging that inquiry in a separate lawsuit.

The 2nd Circuit was clear, in its ruling handed down Monday, that they were only looking at the Manhattan District Attorney’s request, and that they limited their decision to whether a prosecutor could issue subpoenas in a grand jury investigation of the president while he is serving in the White House, not whether Trump could be held accountable for any criminal behavior, nor whether the Manhattan District Attorney can charge Trump with a crime.

“The appeals court said it did not consider whether the president is immune from indictment and prosecution while in office or whether the president may be ordered to produce documents in a state criminal proceeding,” the Associated Press reported.

“Instead, the judges said the only question before the court was whether a state may lawfully demand eight years of a president’s tax records from a third party for a grand jury investigation while the president is in office,” USA Today added. “On that point, the three judges ruled against Trump.”

“The President has not been charged with a crime. The grand jury investigation may not result in an indictment against any person, and even if it does, it is unclear whether the President will be indicted,” the Circuit’s chief judge, Robert Katzmann wrote in the unanimous opinion.

“We hold that any presidential immunity from state criminal process does not bar the enforcement of such a subpoena,” he added.

The court also found that the Manhattan District Attorney does not have to prove a “particularized need” for certain documents to issue his subpoenas.

The decision affirms that of the District Court, which also found that Trump could not block a prosecutor from issuing a grand jury subpoena. Trump’s lawyers had argued that the president enjoyed absolute immunity while serving in office and he could not be criminally prosecuted “even if he shoots someone.” They also argued that neither Trump nor a third party entity could be compelled to turn over potential evidence.

Trump’s lawyers have already indicated that they plan on appealing the decision. Most likely, they will petition for a stay on the 2nd Circuit’s panel ruling and appeal the case to the full bank of  judges serving on the 2nd Circuit. If the finding there is the same, Trump’s attorneys could bring the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

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