Trump cannot prevent release of tax returns, US judge rules

7 October 2019, 17:57

A US judge rejected Trump's challenge to the release of his tax returns
A US judge rejected Trump's challenge to the release of his tax returns. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A US federal judge has rejected Donald Trump's claim that a sitting president is not "subject to the criminal process" saying it defies the US constitution.

President Trump challenged a subpoena demanding the release of his tax returns arguing he was immune from criminal investigations.

US federal judge Victor Morrero dismissed the president's legal claim, saying he cannot endorse such a "categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process".

Trump's lawyers argued against New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance, stating "'virtually all legal commenters agree' that a sitting President of the United States is not 'subject to the criminal process' while he is in office."

However, Marrero described Mr Trump's attempts to invoke presidential immunity as "unqualified and boundless".

The second US Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the handover of the documents "pending expedited review".

Mr Vance requested Trump's accounting firm turn over eight years' worth of tax returns
Mr Vance requested Trump's accounting firm turn over eight years' worth of tax returns. Picture: PA

Mr Vance requested the president's accounting firm turn over eight years' worth of business and personal tax returns.

This demand formed part of an investigation into the payment of hush money towards two women who claimed to have had affairs with the US leader.

The president's legal team argued that requests for his tax records should be halted because a sitting president should be immune from a criminal investigation and suggested the case was politically motivated.

Donald Trump took to Twitter: "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!"

However, Judge Marrero stated Mr Trump's claim was "extraordinary" and an "overreach of executive power".

"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," he wrote.

"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."

Justice Department lawyers in Washington, who had urged Judge Marrero to delay deciding the issue, declined to comment.

The probe began after prosecutors in Manhattan completed their investigation into hush money payments that Mr 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 2016 presidential race.

Mr Cohen was reimbursed by the Trump Organisation at a later date but is serving a three-year prison sentence for crimes including campaign finance violations.