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Donald Trump's Tax Returns and the Second Circuit

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By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on October 11, 2019 4:30 PM

The Great Library of Alexandria burned down in 48 B.C., and we lost an unimaginable wealth of ancient collected knowledge. Nikola Tesla's research lab in New York City burned down in 1895, which urban legend holds contained the solution to his “dynamic theory of gravity".

I bring this up because of all the great documents lost to history, President Donald Trump's tax returns may currently be first on the list.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals has been the battleground for multiple legal challenges to the right to see President Trump's tax returns. While there have been significant recent developments, there is no quick resolution in sight.

The latest out of the Second Circuit involves only two of the currently six recent or ongoing lawsuits over President Trump's returns. But it may involve one of the most likely to be successful.

The Manhattan Attorney General's Subpoena

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is investigating hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. The investigation centers on whether President Trump violated campaign finance laws in paying the two women in exchange for their silence regarding their affairs. The Manhattan DA's office is seeking tax returns in its investigation.

On October 7, the New York District Court for the Southern District of New York quickly and brutally dismissed the President's legal argument that he is immune from criminal investigation while in office and therefore needs not comply with the subpoena. Also acting quickly, President Trump managed to secure a temporary stay of the district court's order from the Second Circuit in under two hours.

Should the Second Circuit similarly find President Trump's argument meritless, the President would likely appeal to the Supreme Court and seek another stay. It is unclear what the Supreme Court would do in that circumstance, although it would be interesting what oddsmakers would give that they grant the stay and wait for election results.

House Committee Subpoenas

In April, the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence and the House Committee on Financial Services issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Capital One to produce Donald Trump's tax returns, as well as the tax returns of some Trump family members. These committees are investigating whether President Trump helped foreign investors launder money through real estate and whether the president is subject to foreign influence through business dealings, respectively.

President Trump sued the banks to block this subpoena. The U.S. District Court denied Trump's motion for a preliminary injunction, which Trump appealed. That appeal is pending in the Second Circuit. After oral arguments, Capital One said it did not have President Trump's returns, while Deutsche Bank said in a sealed document it had some of the tax returns sought in the subpoenas, but none involving the President or the President's businesses.

Subsequently, several media outlets filed a motion to unseal the unredacted letter.

On October 10, the Second Circuit denied the motion to unseal, writing that “[i]n the pending appeal, the basic issue is whether Appellants are entitled to preliminarily enjoin compliance with the subpoenas, and, as to that broad issue, the two names are not necessarily relevant."

Related Resources

Second Circuit: Trump Can't Block Twitter Foes (FindLaw's Second Circuit)

California Trying to Force Trump to Release His Tax Returns (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)

Treasury Dept. Refuses to Hand Over Trump's Tax Returns (FindLaw's Courtside)