The US Supreme Court has rejected former president Donald Trump's effort to conceal his financial records from prosecutors, ending a years-long legal battle and paving the way for a grand jury to see his tax returns.
Trump had petitioned the Supreme Court for a stay on a lower court ruling, which was issued on October 7 last year. That ruling required the former president's accounting firm, Mazars USA, to comply with a subpoena compelling it to turn over eight years of Trump's tax records to a grand jury convened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
Vance's office has been investigating Trump's company, the Trump Organisation, for evidence of financial crimes. Today the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, rejected Trump's request without comment and with no noted dissents. "The application for a stay presented to Justice Breyer and referred to the court is denied," its one-sentence order declared. Vance, a Democrat, reacted to the decision with a brief statement. "The work continues," he said.
"The court's order was a decisive defeat for Trump, who had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep his tax returns and related documents secret," The New York Times reports.
Trump reacted to the Supreme Court's decision with a lengthy statement, denouncing Vance's investigation as "a continuation of the greatest political witch hunt in the history of our country".
"Whether it was the never-ending $32 million Mueller Hoax, which already investigated everything that could possibly be investigated, 'Russia, Russia, Russia,' where there was a finding of 'No Collusion', or two ridiculous 'Crazy Nancy' inspired impeachment attempts where I was found NOT GUILTY. It just never ends!" the former president wrote.
"The Supreme Court should never have let this 'fishing expedition' happen, but they did. This is something which has never happened to a president before, it is all Democrat-inspired in a totally Democrat location, New York City and state, completely controlled and dominated by a heavily reported enemy of mine, Governor Andrew Cuomo. These are attacks by Democrats willing to do anything to stop the almost 75 million people (the most votes, by far, ever gotten by a sitting president) who voted for me in the election – an election which many people, and experts, feel that I won. I agree!"
Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden by an electoral college vote of 306-232. He lost the popular vote by more than seven million.
Trump is the only modern president to refuse to publicly release his tax records. Starting in the 2016 election campaign, and continuing until the end of his presidency, Trump said he could not release them until the Internal Revenue Service was finished auditing them. There was never any rule or law preventing Trump from releasing his own records.
Today's Supreme Court decision does not mean the tax documents will be made public; they can, however, be shown to the grand jury in New York.
"It's the end of the road for the president's years-long battle to keep his tax returns away either from Congress or from Cyrus Vance, the New York prosecutor who has a grand jury looking at President Trump's personal and corporate finances," NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams said.
He speculated that the months-long delay between Trump's request and the Supreme Court's decision may have been due to political considerations.
"My guess is that the court wanted to stay out of any suggestion that it was getting involved in politics, so held back (from) doing anything during the campaign, and then during the fights over the election, and then during the impeachment process," said Williams.
"Now that's all clear, the Supreme Court's brief order has come out." He said the grand jury would probably see Trump's tax returns "almost immediately".
Vance's investigation began with the hush money payments of US$130,000 ($177,400) that Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen – who has since turned on his former boss – paid adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election to keep quiet about an alleged extramarital affair. The New York investigation has since expanded dramatically to focus on potential fraud at the Trump Organisation.
According to Reuters, prosecutors have recently hired forensic accountants. They have also hired Mark Pomerantz, a former prosecutor with experience in pursuing white collar crime.