Judge Green-Lights Probe of Trump Tax Returns in NY

President Donald Trump holds up an executive order during an Aug. 8 news conference at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Describing the White House’s expansive view of executive power as dangerous to democracy, a federal judge on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s second attempt to scuttle the probe of his finances in New York.

“As this court suggested in its earlier ruling in this litigation, that notion, applied as so robustly proclaimed by the president’s advocates, is as unprecedented and far-reaching as it is perilous to the rule of law and other bedrock constitutional principles on which this country was founded and by which it continues to be governed,” U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero wrote.

The 103-page opinion follows an initial ruling late last year where Judge Marrero described Trump’s claim about absolute immunity from criminal investigation more fitting for a king than a president. Marrero’s concerns have only amplified since that time. 

Trump’s attorney William Consovoy told the Second Circuit that local authorities would be temporarily powerless to probe the president even if he shot somebody on the middle of Fifth Avenue.  

“Short of that time lapse, they argued, ‘nothing could be done’ by the authorities to prosecute the crime,” Marrero noted, quoting the oral arguments from last October. 

Spurning that vision of executive power earlier last month, the Supreme Court allowed Trump one more opportunity to challenge Vance’s investigation on other grounds, including overbreadth, bad faith or illegal harassment. 

Marrero said that Trump used this window to seek the same ruling the high court rejected. 

“At its core, it amounts to absolute immunity through a back door, an entry point through which not only a president but also potentially other persons and entities, public and private, could effectively gain cover from judicial process,” Marrero wrote. 

Trump’s legal team wasted little time on an appeal, sending notice to the Second Circuit and asking Judge Marrero to temporarily stay his decision until the appeals court can review it. 

“Given the seriousness of this dispute, the status quo should be preserved so that the Second Circuit and Supreme Court can hear the President’s claims,” Consovoy wrote in a 6-page motion Thursday. “Consideration for ‘the Presidency itself’ requires at least that much.” 

Trump’s attorney is asking for an identical stay before the Second Circuit and the Supreme Court. 

In the president’s flurry of appeals, lawsuits and challenges, Judge Marrero saw a pattern of delay tactics aimed at crippling the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation. 

“That strategy potentially would enable the clock to run on applicable statutes of limitations, risk the loss of witnesses and evidence and thus possibly foreclose law enforcement concerning any crimes under grand jury investigation,” Marrero wrote today. 

There has been no ruling on that request for a stay of today’s ruling by press time. 

Trump is widely expected to appeal, but his attorney Consovoy did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. 

Today’s ruling allows Vance to seek Trump’s tax returns and other documents from the accounting firm Mazars, for a criminal investigation whose scope remains unclear. 

The district attorney signaled a potentially broad investigation earlier this month in a brief stating that he is looking into “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization,” citing a Wall Street Journal write-up of Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony and two Washington Post articles reporting that the president inflated his assets to lenders and used questionable tactics to sell off his father’s holdings. 

“Given that this much information about potentially widespread and protracted criminal conduct was in the public record (and without going into any additional, non-public sources), it is not plausible to speculate, let alone infer, that the grand jury investigation was limited to Cohen’s 2016 payments,” his counsel Casey Dunne wrote in a recent legal brief. 

Vance’s office, which has remained silent on the scope and targets of his investigation, declined to comment on the ruling and whether prosecutors immediately hope to enforce the subpoena. 

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