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

President Trump speaks to the media before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

NEW YORK — A federal appeals court Tuesday blocked the immediate release of President Trump's tax returns and other financial records to the Manhattan district attorney — a temporary win for the president in his protracted legal battle to prevent the local prosecutor's office from obtaining a trove of documents in connection with his ongoing criminal probe.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit came as one judge on the court's three-member panel pressed a lawyer for District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. about the scope of Vance's secret grand-jury investigation of the president's private business activities, saying a subpoena for eight years of Trump's tax returns does appear "really very broad" — as the president's lawyers have argued.

Tuesday's order establishes the timeline for Trump's broader appeal of a lower-court ruling last month that found the district attorney is entitled to request Trump's personal financial records from his accounting firm. Arguments are set for Sept. 25, and the court's order will remain active pending the outcome of that hearing, it said in announcing the decision.

Judge rejects Trump’s latest bid to shield his tax records from Manhattan district attorney

Vance's office is investigating hush-money payments made ahead of the 2016 election to two women who alleged having affairs with Trump several years ago, claims the president has denied. The district attorney's team — buoyed by a major Supreme Court ruling in July rejecting Trump's initial claim that as president he is immune from such investigations — has suggested it is also looking at potential bank and insurance fraud related to Trump's company.

Trump's new position is that Vance's request is politically motivated harassment, a fishing expedition that reaches too far and therefore is invalid.

Earlier Tuesday, Judge John Walker Jr., one of panel’s three judges, asked a lawyer for Vance’s office how one would determine whether its request for Trump’s records is in fact “very broad and might engage in some fishing.”

“It seems to me it’s really very broad when you’re asking for activities in New York, Dubai and so forth,” the judge said.

President Trump reacted Aug. 20 to a ruling by a federal judge against his latest attempt to shield his tax records from the Manhattan district attorney. (Video: The Washington Post)

Carey Dunne, general counsel for Vance, said the district attorney’s grand-jury investigation of Trump’s business activities is secret and should remain so but suggested it was common for Vance’s team to make such wide-reaching requests.

“There’s nothing unusual about an office like ours asking for information about out-of-state or foreign transactions,” Dunne told the panel, as many major banks and financial institutions are located in New York. “The company at the center has headquarters in Manhattan; that’s why we have jurisdiction,” he added, apparently referring to the Trump Organization.

A spokesman for Vance declined to comment.

Supreme Court says Manhattan prosecutor may pursue Trump’s financial records, denies Congress access for now

The district attorney’s office, citing impending statutes of limitations that risk hindering its pursuit of criminal charges if warranted, has sought expedited review from the courts. Vance’s team has argued that Trump’s new arguments are a delay tactic and that he’s attempting to impede its investigation from moving forward.

During arguments Tuesday morning, the president’s lawyer William Consovoy said “irreparable harm” for Trump would result should the subpoena be enforced before the case is fully litigated and the appeals process is exhausted.

Consovoy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case arrived at the appeals court last month, after U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero ruled in favor of Vance, saying the law presumes subpoenas are issued for a valid purpose, unless proved otherwise. “Justice,” the judge wrote in his opinion, “requires an end to this controversy.”

Ultimately, even if Vance’s subpoena is enforced and the district attorney’s office receives Trump’s financial records, there is no guarantee the public will see them because the documents would be subject to secrecy rules governing grand-jury investigations. It’s possible they might emerge as evidence should the district attorney move to charge someone with a crime.

Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, has said it would comply with its legal obligations.