Loses appeal to block subpoena, Supreme Court fight looms

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 19, 2020.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to block enforcement of a grand jury subpoena that demands years of his income tax returns from his accountants.

But a three-judge panel on Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit suspended enforcement of that subpoena by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., giving Trump time to ask the Supreme Court, for the second time, to step into the case and block it permanently.

The panel’s decision was unanimous.

This is the second time that appeals court has rejected Trump’s request to deny Vance access to tax returns dating back to 2011 by upholding a lower federal court ruling.

Trump lost an earlier appeal of a similar ruling when he took the case to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court this summer said that he did not have a right to prevent his accounting firm Mazars USA from complying with the subpoena just because he is president.

But the high court also had allowed Trump to raise new objections with a federal court in Manhattan, which had rejected his first effort to stop the subpoena from being enforced. However, a judge in that lower court quickly denied Trump’s new arguments, triggering Trump’s appeal, which was denied Wednesday.

Vance is seeking the tax returns as part of a criminal investigation of Trump’s company.

According to court filings, the probe could be eyeing hush money payments made shortly before the 2016 presidential election to two women who said they had sex with Trump, as well as possible insurance and bank fraud by the company in connection with the valuation of Trump-owned assets.

The Manhattan DA already said he would not seek to enforce the subpoena, which was issued in August 2019 by a grand jury, to allow Trump time to exhaust his appeals.

The Supreme Court is not required to take any appeal of a lower court decision.

In its opinion Wednesday, the panel of judges noted that Trump had argued that the subpoena to Mazars “is overbroad and was issued in bad faith.”

But the panel said, “We find that the claim of overbreadth is not plausibly alleged for two interrelated reasons.”

The panel said that Trump’s “bare assertion that the scope of the grand jury’s investigation is limited only to certain payments made by” his then-personal lawyer Michael Cohen in 2016 to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who was one of two women who said she had sex with Trump, “amounts to nothing more than implausible speculation.”

“Second, without the benefit of this linchpin assumption, all other allegations of overbreadth—based on the types of documents sought, the types of entities covered, and the time period covered by the subpoena, as well as the subpoena’s near identity to a prior Congressional subpoena — fall short of meeting the plausibility standard,” the court said.

“Similarly, the President’s allegations of bad faith fail to raise a plausible inference that the subpoena was issued out of malice or an intent to harass. Accordingly, we affirm” the lower court ruling.

Vance’s office declined to comment on the ruling.

Trump’s lawyer, a White House spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.

This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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