President Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington, DC, for Florida on Oct. 3. (Jim Watson/Afp Via Getty Images)
A federal judge on Monday dismissed President Trump’s lawsuit seeking to block the Manhattan district attorney from obtaining the president’s tax returns as part of an investigation into hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign.
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero rejected Trump’s argument that the presidency makes him immune to any investigation by any prosecutor.
In his 75-page ruling, Marrero called such a claim “extraordinary” and wrote, “This Court cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process.”
The order would allow District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (D) to enforce a subpoena he sent to Trump’s longtime accountants, Mazars USA. Trump had filed an unorthodox lawsuit seeking to stop that subpoena, saying that he would suffer “irreparable harm” if prosecutors obtained his tax returns. The Justice Department also took Trump’s side in the case.
But moments after the ruling Monday, Trump’s private attorneys asked the New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to intervene to put the case on hold. The appeals court responded soon after, issuing a temporary stay pending review by a three-judge panel of the court.
President Trump reacted to the ruling on Twitter, writing that Democrats “have failed on all fronts, so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democratic prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!”
The decision marked a key setback for Trump, who has taken an unorthodox, aggressive approach to fighting off investigations from prosecutors and congressional committees seeking his tax returns and financial documents. He has sued the investigators and the companies they subpoenaed, including Mazars and two of Trump’s banks.
Judges have ruled against Trump twice in other cases, but those lawsuits are still tied up in appeals in New York and Washington, and the subpoenas have not been enforced.
In this lawsuit, Trump said that Vance did not need eight years of his tax returns to examine whether any laws were broken by the 2016 payments and called the subpoena to Mazars “a bad faith effort to harass the President by obtaining and exposing his private financial information, not a legitimate attempt to enforce New York law.”
In his ruling Monday, Marrero recognized that subjecting presidents to some aspects of criminal proceedings could interfere with presidential duties. But the judge rejected Trump’s claim of “absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind.”
“As the Court reads it, presidential immunity would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceedings,” he wrote. “The constitutional dimensions of the presidential shield from judicial process are virtually limitless.”
Marrero was appointed to the federal bench in 1999 by President Bill Clinton.
Vance is investigating payments made in the last weeks of the 2016 campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Trump years earlier. Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen later pleaded guilty to federal campaign-finance violations for arranging those payments, and he said he had been reimbursed by the Trump Organization, which the president still owns. Federal prosecutors later concluded their investigation into those payments without charging anyone beyond Cohen.
Now, Vance’s office is investigating to see whether any state laws were violated. Its subpoenas asked for eight years of tax returns from Trump and his businesses, as well as other documents. Vance has said that, at this stage of the investigation, Trump “has not been identified as a defendant, nor is there an assumption he will be.”