Appeals court rejects Trump effort to shield financial records

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A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected President Donald Trump’s efforts to keep his financial records from a Manhattan prosecutor, putting the president on track for a second date at the Supreme Court in his campaign to keep those documents private.

A three-judge panel of the New York-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments from Trump’s legal team that the subpoena issued to Trump’s accounting firm at the request of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was too broad and that the subpoena amounted to retaliation for the refusal of Trump’s businesses to cooperate with Vance’s office.

Trump’s lawyers said it appeared that the Vance investigation was limited to alleged hush money payments former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen made to women alleging sexual encounters with Trump. Trump’s attorneys argued that the subpoena seeking eight years of tax returns and other records went far beyond anything conceivably related to those transactions.

However, the appeals court panel’s 35-page opinion said the Trump team’s surmises about what the grand jury is investigating amounted to rank speculation.

“The President, in his briefs, asks us to infer that, because the Cohen payments were a focus of the investigation, they must have been the only focus. We decline to take such a leap,” the judges wrote.

The 2nd Circuit panel also rebuffed Trump’s claim that the effort by a Manhattan D.A. to seek information on the profits of Trump-owned businesses around the globe showed Vance was engaged in a phishing expedition.

“It is neither unusual nor unlawful for grand juries to ‘paint[] with a broad brush…’ especially in a complex financial investigation. The mere fact that the subpoena seeks information from a variety of related entities—all owned by the same individual—would not overcome the presumption of validity,” the court wrote. “There is nothing suspect about a grand jury demanding records relating to entities beyond the grand jury’s territorial jurisdiction.”

The court noted that while Trump’s lawyers accused Vance of acting in “bad faith” in issuing the subpoena, they never directly accused him of mounting a political attack on the president. The judges said a vague reference in Trump’s legal papers to the desires of Trump’s political opponents to expose his finances isn’t enough to undermine the legitimacy of the subpoena. “The motivations of unspecified ‘Democrats’ cannot be imputed to the District Attorney without specific factual allegations,” the appeals court wrote.

While the subpoena — part of an ongoing tax, insurance and business fraud investigation — clearly signals legal peril for the president, the degree of political peril related to next month’s election may be far more modest.

The Trump legal team’s maneuvering in the case, including a previous trip to the U.S. Supreme Court in an unsuccessful bid to claim absolute immunity for the president, has chewed up more than a year. A Trump attorney confirmed to POLITICO Wednesday that another trip to the Supreme Court is planned.

“We will be filing a stay with the Supreme Court,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said.

That effort will likely consume at least another week or two, meaning that Vance’s office is unlikely to gain access to the records until just days before the November election.

Vance’s office had no immediate comment on the appeals court decision.

The ruling Wednesday was issued by three Democrat-appointed judges: Clinton appointees Robert Katzmann and Pierre Leval and Obama appointee Raymond Lohier. No specific author of the opinion was identified.

The appeals court decision also dismissed Trump’s long-held argument that the Vance subpoena was improper because it relied heavily on a nearly identical subpoena issued by the Democrat-led House Oversight Committee.

“[T]here is no logic to the proposition that the documents sought in the Mazars subpoena are irrelevant to legitimate state law enforcement purposes simply because a Congressional committee considered the same documents relevant to its own investigative purposes,” the judges noted.

And claims that some of the documents might be relevant to Congress but not to Vance fall short as well, they said.

“It would be impossible,” the judges determined, “for grand juries and district attorneys advising them to fashion document subpoenas with such refinement and precision that every document called for is useful in the criminal investigation.”

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