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Manhattan district attorney cites news reports to argue for eight years of Trump tax returns

President Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Fayetteville Regional Airport in North Carolina on Sept. 19. (Evan Vucci/AP)

NEW YORK — The Manhattan District Attorney's Office made a more pointed case for the legality of its grand jury subpoena for eight years of President Trump's tax returns and related records, saying in a brief to an appeals court Monday that news reports of misconduct alone justify such a wide-ranging review of business dealings.

The filing marks the first time the prosecutor has publicly suggested specific criminal charges — including falsifying business records and tax fraud — that could hypothetically apply, should the grand jury find evidence to support them.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s investigation includes alleged hush-money payments in 2016 to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, as well as a “variety of business transactions,” according to a filing by the office’s general counsel, Carey Dunne. The investigation “is based on information derived from public sources, confidential informants, and the grand jury process,” according to the filing.

Trump’s legal team has argued that Vance is misrepresenting the true scope of the investigation to support the president’s recent challenge to the legality of the subpoena.

Dunne wrote that “in particular,” any false statements made to business partners, would-be lenders, insurers or tax authorities about Trump business properties — no matter where the properties were located — would be fair game for New York prosecutors if the statements were made from Trump Tower or the Trump Organization’s headquarters in Manhattan. False statements, Dunne wrote, could lead to criminal charges, including scheme to defraud, falsification of business records, insurance fraud and criminal tax fraud.

The filing cites reporting by The Washington Post about Trump allegedly inflating the value of his properties to lenders and investors. It also noted reporting by the New York Times and public statements made by Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who admitted to orchestrating the payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. The women claimed they had affairs with Trump, which he has denied.

The office did not say whether its investigation has confirmed the news reports or if charges against Trump or anyone affiliated with his company are expected. The subpoena requested Trump’s personal and business tax records from 2011 to 2019, and it was directed to Mazars USA, the president’s accounting firm.

Dunne argued that “a mountainous record of criminal convictions and public allegations of misconduct, of which the court may take judicial notice, further confirms the reasonableness of the Mazars Subpoena’s timeframe and its specific document requests.”

Court temporarily blocks enforcement of subpoena for Trump’s tax records

On Sept. 1, the appeals court gave Trump a temporary win, blocking the immediate release of the president’s tax returns and other documents subpoenaed by the district attorney. At a hearing to determine whether a stay would be granted in Trump’s favor, one member of a three-judge panel remarked that the district attorney's subpoena is “very broad” and possibly a “fishing” expedition, supporting the claims by Trump in his most recent bid to have the grand jury request thrown out.

“It seems, to me, it’s really very broad when you’re asking for activities in New York, Dubai and so forth,” Judge John Walker Jr. said at a hearing.

The day of the hearing, the court established a timeline for arguments over Trump’s appeal of a decision by a district judge, who dismissed the president’s claims that Vance’s subpoena was “overbroad” and amounted to politically motivated “harassment.”

In July, the Supreme Court ruled that Trump was not immune from Vance’s investigation or other state court proceedings but opened the door for the president to challenge the subpoena on other grounds. A short time later, Trump’s legal team amended its complaint to address challenges related to the breadth of the requested records and the idea that the subpoena was issued in “bad faith.”

A federal judge in Manhattan previously shot down the claims, siding with Vance and remarking that the battle over the 2019 subpoena at issue has gone on long enough.

“Justice requires an end to this controversy,” U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero wrote in a lengthy opinion.

Even if Vance received the documents immediately, it is unlikely the contents would be made public through his office before the election in November. The subpoena was formally issued through a grand jury hearing evidence on the matter, and the panel’s proceedings are secret.

The information contained in the records could become public in open court if charges are ever brought. It is also highly unlikely anyone would be charged in connection with the investigation before Nov. 3.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments from both sides Friday. The Supreme Court may end up ultimately ruling again on the matter.