Donald Trump faces a new battle over the release of his tax returns after New York prosecutors issued a subpoena for them.
Trump is the first US president in nearly 40 years not to release his tax information, despite having promised to do so during his 2016 election campaign. He has resisted pressure from Democrats and watchdogs demanding greater transparency.
But on Monday, the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, investigating hush money payments to the pornographic actor Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election, subpoenaed eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns, according to media reports.
Mazars USA, which prepares Trump’s tax returns, said in a statement that it would “fully comply with its legal obligations”.
Democrats welcomed the move. The Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a candidate for president, tweeted in response: “One way or another, we will get Donald Trump’s tax returns.” Another 2020 candidate, Julián Castro, the former housing secretary under Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter: “The president is not above the law. The American people deserve to know if he deceived them in hopes of winning an election. He must comply with this subpoena.”
A federal investigation into the hush money payments led to Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, pleading guilty to campaign finance violations which, along with tax fraud and making false statements to Congress, resulted in three-year prison sentence.
That investigation in effect wound up in July. Trump, who denies Daniels’ claim of a sexual relationship, has claimed any payments were a personal matter, not a campaign expense.
But last month Vance’s office launched a fresh investigation into whether the Trump Organization falsely listed its reimbursement of Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Daniels as a legal expense. This would be illegal under New York law.
Vance, who is a Democrat, sent a subpoena to the accounting firm Mazars USA seeking his personal and business returns dating back to 2011, the New York Times first reported, followed by the Associated Press (AP) and other outlets.
The Times noted that even if the Manhattan district attorney’s office were successful in obtaining the president’s tax returns, “the documents would be covered by secrecy rules governing grand juries, meaning they would not become public unless they were used as evidence in a criminal case”.
A lawyer for the Trump Organization, Marc Mukasey, told the AP he was “evaluating the situation and will respond as appropriate”.
Trump’s taxes are one of the biggest and longest running controversies of his political career. House Democrats have also subpoenaed them and are currently locked in a legal fight with Mazars USA that could extend into the 2020 presidential election.
Steven Rosenthal, a tax lawyer with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington, told Reuters this year: “I expect Trump will stall at every opportunity … Delay is a victory for Trump.”