Criminal Justice

Trump’s bid to block tax records subpoena based on 'implausible speculation,' 2nd Circuit says

  • Print.

tax return

Image from

A federal appeals court has ruled against President Donald Trump’s claim that a subpoena for his tax records was overbroad and was issued in bad faith.

Ruling on Wednesday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York upheld the dismissal of Trump’s lawsuit against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

The case had returned to lower courts after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July that Trump wasn’t automatically and absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas. Without automatic protection, Trump sought to attack the subpoenas on different legal grounds.

Trump had argued that the subpoena was overbroad because many of the requested documents bear no relation to an investigation of hush money payments made by lawyer Michael Cohen in 2016. He also argued that the subpoena was overbroad and was issued in bad faith because it largely tracks a congressional subpoena issued to Trump’s accounting firm Mazars USA.

In its Oct. 7 per curiam opinion, the 2nd Circuit said Trump’s “bare assertion” that the investigation is limited only to the Michael Cohen payments “amounts to nothing more than implausible speculation.”

Also, without the “linchpin assumption” that the investigation relates only to Cohen’s payments, other allegations of overbreadth fall short, the court said. Those other claims were based on the types of documents sought, the types of entities covered, the time period covered, and the subpoena’s similarity to a congressional subpoena.

The appeals court also rejected Trump’s bad faith argument, which was based on Vance’s decision to issue the subpoena at a time when Democrats were increasingly dismayed by their failure to obtain Trump’s tax returns.

The appeals court said it was “unpersuaded by the president’s reference to the ambient political motivations of third parties.” Trump’s lawsuit doesn’t allege that Vance was motivated by partisan considerations, and “the motivations of unspecified ‘Democrats’ cannot be imputed to the district attorney without specific factual allegations,” the court said.

Nor was it bad faith for Vance to subpoena Trump’s accounting firm after Trump refused to provide his tax returns in response to a Trump Organization subpoena, the appeals court said. Subpoenas to third-party custodians, such as an accounting firm, are routine, the court said.

The appeals court stayed enforcement of the subpoena to allow Trump to seek Supreme Court review.

The Washington Post, the New York Times and the National Law Journal had coverage of the decision.

The case is Trump v. Vance.

See also: “Judge refuses to block subpoena for Trump tax returns; stay is immediately sought” “Chemerinsky: It’s likely to be an amazing year in the Supreme Court” “Supreme Court agrees to hear 3 disputes over access to Trump’s financial and tax records”

ABA “2nd Circuit refuses to block House committees’ subpoenas for Trump bank records” “DC Circuit upholds Democratic subpoena for Trump’s financial records” “Afternoon Briefs: Trump must provide tax returns, court says; DA accepts gift cards in exchange for community service” “Trump lawyer argues Congress can’t seek president’s financial records for law enforcement purpose” “Chemerinsky: It’s going to be an unusual May in the Supreme Court”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.