WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s attorney faced a skeptical group of judges Friday as he sought to get a lower court’s decision thrown out which would require the disclosure of Trump’s tax returns to a Manhattan prosecutor.
Trump’s attorney William Consovoy argued in a hearing before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the grand jury subpoena seeking Trump’s tax returns was “an overbroad fishing expedition and issued in bad faith” to harass the president.
Judge Pierre Leval said allegations that the subpoena was issued in bad faith were “highly contrived.” Judge Robert Katzmann said grand juries have broad authority and wondered whether the president’s attorney is asking them to change the way grand juries have always operated. And Judge Raymond Lohier pressed Consovoy on whether there’s a version of the subpoena he would not view as too broad.
Trump is seeking to overturn a decision last month by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, who rejected the president’s latest efforts to block the grand jury subpoena for his tax returns. Marrero’s ruling was a major loss for Trump, who has dismissed the Manhattan prosecutor’s investigation as a political “witch hunt” and has fought all the way to the Supreme Court to keep his financial records private.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is investigating hush money payments allegedly made to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump before the 2016 presidential election. Vance’s office suggested in court documents last month that prosecutors are also looking broadly at “allegations of possible criminal activity” at the Trump Organization.
Carey Dunne, Vance’s general counsel, said allegations from the president’s legal team are based on politics and speculations about the scope of the district attorney’s investigation. He added that Vance has never made any public statements about his office’s political motivation to target Trump and his business.
“Absent those kinds of facts, to simply say, ‘Sometimes prosecutors act with political motivations’ … that’s not how it works,” Dunne said.
Consovoy argued that the subpoena was “retaliatory,” saying Vance’s office simply “photocopied” a congressional subpoena issued by House Democrats who were seeking the same documents. Doing so is “totally unacceptable,” Consovoy said.
Consovoy also said the time period and geographic reach covered by the subpoena prove it is overly broad. The subpoena is seeking eight years of Trump’s personal and business tax records and covers financial documents outside of New York City.
“If you would’ve looked at the definition of a fishing expedition, this is it,” Consovoy said.
Still, the judges, who were appointed by Democratic presidents, did not seem persuaded.
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Leval said he does not think documents spanning several years and covering operations in many places is overly broad, especially for a global company like the Trump Organization.
“When one is investigating the lawfulness and propriety of tax returns of individuals or organizations that operates worldwide, all the worldwide operations are pertinent … The same is true with respect to years because there’s an important linkage … especially with real estate when depreciation is such an important matter … on what is reported for certain years and what is reported for prior years,” Leval said.
Vance’s office has agreed to hold off on enforcing the subpoena until after the appeals court reaches its decision.
In July, the Supreme Court ruled that the president cannot keep his tax returns and financial records from Vance’s office, rejecting Trump’s claims of absolute immunity from criminal investigations.