History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Trump suffers key court defeat on keeping his tax returns hidden

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/19/19, 9:06 PM ET

Trump lawyers argue Trump can't be investigated or prosecuted

Rachel Maddow reports on Donald Trump’s legal argument to prevent Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance from obtaining Trump’s past tax returns in his investigation of hush money payments by Trump and his associates. The argument includes the claim that
As of this morning, we’re one step closer to seeing Donald Trump’s hidden tax returns.

A federal judge Monday rejected President Donald Trump’s claim that he was immune from criminal investigations as part of his bid to block a subpoena from the Manhattan district attorney seeking eight years of personal and business tax returns.

The judge, Victor Marrero, tossed the lawsuit Trump’s legal team brought against District Attorney Cyrus Vance that argued Vance should not receive Trump’s tax returns because “’[v]irtually all legal commenters agree’ that a sitting President of the United States is not ‘subject to the criminal process’ while he is in office.”

Because there are so many legal disputes surrounding Donald Trump’s secret tax materials, it’s easy to lose track of which one is which, so let’s quickly review what this case is all about.

About a month ago, the Manhattan district attorney’s office sent a grand jury subpoena to Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, to obtain his personal and corporate tax returns for the past eight years. It’s part of an investigation into Trump’s hush-money controversy involving pre-election payments to his alleged former mistresses, which helped put the president’s former personal attorney in prison.

Prosecutors are exploring whether the president’s business falsified records to obscure the purpose of Trump’s payment to Stormy Daniels.

As Matt Stieb noted, “Unlike previous subpoenas, this one is in the context of a criminal investigation with a sitting grand jury, making it more difficult for the president’s lawyers to dodge this filing with a lawsuit.”

And yet, Trump’s lawyers – hired specifically to help keep his tax returns secret – filed suit anyway and brought a rather bizarre argument to a federal courtroom.

As Rachel noted on the show recently, Trump’s legal team insisted that a sitting American president cannot be investigated by anyone for any reason, no matter how serious the underlying accusation.

Not surprisingly, Judge Marrero didn’t find this especially persuasive, dismissing the argument as “unqualified and boundless,” adding, “This Court cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from” the judicial process.

The full 75-page ruling is online here (pdf).

As of this minute, Trump’s legal defeat means the grand jury subpoena can be enforced, though the president’s attorneys are filing an emergency appeal with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in the hopes of maintaining the secrecy of his tax returns a little longer.

Update 10:54 a.m.: The 2nd Circuit has granted the stay requested by Trump’s lawyers, meaning that the subpoena won’t be enforced just yet.