Trump Attorneys: Manhattan DA Still Trying to Justify Harassment of President Over Tax Records

Trump Attorneys: Manhattan DA Still Trying to Justify Harassment of President Over Tax Records
President Donald Trump listens to a question from a reporter during a briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on Aug. 3, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Janita Kan

President Donald Trump’s legal team on Monday pushed back against the Manhattan district attorney’s suggestion that it is pursuing an investigation into “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization.”

In a new court filing, Trump’s attorneys argued that New York Country District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. is “still fishing for a way to justify his harassment of the President” when he cited several newspaper articles to justify his subpoena for the president’s tax returns as part of a grand jury probe.

Trump’s legal team filed a new complaint in late July to challenge the subpoena in order to prevent Vance from obtaining access to eight years of the president’s tax returns and other financial records from his accountants. They argued that the subpoena was “widely overbroad” and issued in “bad faith,” which amounted to a form of “harassment” against the president.

Vance’s office last week sought to dismiss the challenge, arguing that the complaint “merely regurgitates allegations and arguments this Court has rejected before.”

Trump’s lawyers accused the district attorney of refusing to confront the claims detailed in the new complaint and instead inappropriately asked the court to consider extrinsic evidence that suggested that the scope of the grand jury investigation may be broader than previously known to justify the subpoena. They claimed that this move was done in violation of the federal rules of civil procedure.

“At no point—in this motion or in any public filing—has the District Attorney ever claimed that the topics discussed in these reports were the impetus for his investigation or are otherwise related to it,” the lawyers argued (pdf).

“Lobbing incendiary articles into the record may be sufficient to trigger a breathless news cycle, but such misdirection falls woefully short of what is needed for dismissal. If anything, it shows that the District Attorney is still fishing for a way to justify his harassment of the President.”

The lawyers went on to argue that even if the court considers the evidence, the district attorney has never fully disclosed the scope of the grand jury investigation and the fact that there are public allegations of possible criminal activity is not sufficient justification for the subpoena.

“If the District Attorney convened the grand jury in order to investigate allegations discussed in these articles, he could’ve said so,” they argued. “But the bare fact that ’there were public allegations of possible criminal activity,' which is all these citations show, provides no insight into whether the grand jury is in fact investigating them and whether they were a basis for issuing this subpoena.”

In a second court filing on Monday, the lawyers sent a letter (pdf) to the federal judge telling him that if chooses to consider Vance’s suggestion that prosecutors are investigating the bank and insurance fraud allegations, then the court should ask for the district attorney to disclose the details of the grand jury probe, including showing whether each item in their subpoena is relevant to the probe.

When the subpoena was issued, Vance was reportedly investigating hush money paid to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign: adult film performer Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the two women.

Trump has been fighting Vance’s subpoena since September 2019, arguing that the president enjoys absolute immunity from state criminal process under the Constitution. The district court denied Trump’s application for an injunction over the subpoena and dismissed the case in October 2019. The 2nd Circuit also denied the president’s request for relief.

Trump’s lawyer argued in the Supreme Court that a sitting president has absolute immunity from state criminal subpoenas because compliance with them would impair the performance of his presidential duties. The federal government, which was also involved in the case, argued that a state grand jury subpoena for personal records of a sitting president should meet a higher standard of need.

The Supreme Court in July rejected (pdf) both arguments and said “no citizen, not even the President, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding.” However, the top court left the door open for the president to seek recourse, suggesting that Trump could still challenge the subpoena on other grounds.