The assertion by the Manhattan district attorney offered rare insight into the office's investigation of the president and his businesses.
The Manhattan district attorney's office, which has been locked in a yearlong legal battle with President Donald Trump over obtaining his tax returns, suggested for the first time in a court filing Monday (Tuesday NZ time) that it had grounds to investigate him and his businesses for tax fraud.
The filing by the office of the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., offered rare insight into the office's investigation of the president and his business dealings, which began more than two years ago.
Vance, a Democrat, has never revealed the scope of his office's criminal inquiry, citing grand jury secrecy. The investigation has been stalled by the fight over a subpoena that the office issued in August 2019 for eight years of the president's tax returns.
Lawyers for Trump have said the subpoena should be blocked, calling it "wildly overbroad" and politically motivated. Vance responded to that argument in a carefully worded new filing that did not directly accuse Trump or any of his businesses or associates of wrongdoing and took pains to avoid disclosing details about the inquiry.
However, prosecutors listed news reports and public testimony that alleged misconduct by Trump and his businesses. The reports, prosecutors wrote, would justify a grand jury inquiry into a range of possible crimes, including tax and insurance fraud and falsification of business records. It was the first time the office had suggested tax fraud might be among the possible areas of investigation.
"Even if the grand jury were testing the truth of public allegations alone, such reports, taken together, fully justify the scope of the grand jury subpoena at issue in this case," prosecutors wrote.
Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, declined to comment on the district attorney's filing.
The president has said he expects the dispute over the subpoena will end up in the Supreme Court. "This is a continuation of the witch hunt, the greatest witch hunt in history," Trump said last month.
The conflict began when Vance's prosecutors issued the grand jury subpoena to Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, seeking the tax returns and other financial records.
Vance's office has been investigating hush-money payments that were made before the 2016 election to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump.
More recently, prosecutors suggested in court papers that their inquiry was broader, including a focus on possible financial crimes and insurance fraud. The prosecutors said they viewed Trump's records as central to their investigation.
After the subpoena was issued, Trump sued in federal court to block it, arguing that as a sitting president, he had blanket immunity from any criminal investigation. The judge, Victor Marrero of U.S. District Court in Manhattan, roundly dismissed the claim, which had not been tested in the courts before, and the president appealed.
The dispute ultimately reached the Supreme Court, which in July handed down a landmark decision ruling against Trump.
"No citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.
But the justices said that Trump could return to the lower court and raise other objections to the subpoena's scope and relevance. Trump's lawyers went back to Marrero, arguing that the document request was political and "so sweeping that it amounts to an unguided and unlawful fishing expedition."
In August, Marrero dismissed the president's new arguments. The judge noted that Trump's lengthy legal battle could end up allowing the statute of limitations to expire on any possible crimes, and effectively grant him the immunity to which the Supreme Court ruled he was not entitled.
"At its core, it amounts to absolute immunity through a back door," Marrero wrote. He added, "Justice requires an end to this controversy."
Trump is now appealing that decision in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In recent court filings, his lawyers described Marrero's opinion as "flawed from start to finish," and they accused him of "stacking the deck" against the president.
"The president is not trying to resurrect a categorical-immunity claim," the lawyers wrote. "He is challenging this specific subpoena on distinct grounds."
The appeals court scheduled oral arguments on the matter for Friday. However the court rules, either party could take the case back to the Supreme Court, making it unlikely the dispute will be decided before the presidential election on Nov. 3.
Even if Vance's prosecutors ultimately obtain Trump's tax records, grand jury secrecy rules make it unlikely the materials will become public anytime soon. They might only surface if Vance's office brings charges and the tax returns are introduced as evidence in court.
Written by: Benjamin Weiser and William K. Rashbaum
Photographs by: Doug Mills
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