The efforts by Donald Trump’s political opponents to get their hands on the president’s tax returns took a significant step forward on Monday.
A Bill Clinton-appointed federal judge issued a 75-page order Monday denying Trump’s challenge to releasing eight years of his tax returns as part of a Manhattan district attorney’s criminal investigation into Trump’s alleged “hush money” payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
In his strongly worded order, Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York decried Trump’s “extraordinary claim” of presidential immunity in regard to his tax returns.
“The president asserts an extraordinary claim in the dispute now before this court,” Marrero wrote. The court, he wrote, cannot allow for such a “categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity.”
“As the court reads it, presidential immunity would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceedings, including investigations, grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, indictment, prosecution, arrest, trial, conviction, and incarceration,” the judge explained, in comments highlighted by the Associated Press. “That constitutional protection presumably would encompass any conduct, at any time, in any forum, whether federal or state, and whether the President acted alone or in concert with other individuals.”
Marrero argued that he “cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process as being countenanced by the nation’s constitutional plan, especially in the light of the fundamental concerns over excessive arrogation of power that animated the Constitution’s delicate structure and its calibrated balance of authority among the three branches of the national government, as well as between the federal and state authorities.”
Trump’s legal team took immediate action on Monday, filing an emergency order of appeal, NBC News reports.
Trump’s camp maintains that the entire case is politically motivated, driven by his political opponents in an attempt to undermine his presidency.
The battle over Trump’s tax returns stems from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s investigation into the “hush money” payments Trump’s campaign allegedly paid to two of Trump’s alleged former paramours, Daniels and McDougal, ahead of the 2016 election.
Last month, the D.A. subpoenaed Mazars USA, the firm that prepares Trump’s tax returns, as part of the investigation into whether or not Trump violated campaign finance laws by paying the women to be silent to aid his presidential campaign. Failing to disclose those payments could be a violation of campaign finance law.
“Vance began his probe after federal prosecutors in Manhattan completed their investigation into payments that Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to be paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal to keep them silent during the presidential race,” AP explains. “The Trump Organization later reimbursed Cohen.”
In his plea in 2018, Cohen famously threw himself on the mercy of the court and pointed to his supposed blind loyalty to Trump for his self-admitted criminal behavior. Despite being convicted of multiple felonies, including fraud and campaign finance violations, Cohen was invited by Democrats to testify in front of Congress in February prior to beginning his three-year prison sentence. Among the “irrefutable” evidence Cohen presented to Congress in the highly publicized hearing was “a copy of a check Mr. Trump wrote from his personal bank account — after he became president — to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made to cover up his affair with an adult film star and prevent damage to his campaign.”