(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. speaks during a news conference to announce the return of The Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh, to the people of Egypt, in New York City
By Jonathan Stempel and Tom Hals
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A lawyer for Donald Trump on Friday faced skeptical questions from a federal appeals court considering whether to let Manhattan’s top prosecutor obtain the president’s tax returns in connection with a criminal probe into Trump and his businesses.
William Consovoy, Trump’s lawyer, told the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan that the subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance for the tax returns was overbroad and issued in bad faith to harass him.
“If you were to look up the definition of a fishing expedition, this is it,” Consovoy said.
But the three-judge panel questioned whether Trump was seeking special privileges because he was president, and challenged whether he would find any subpoena acceptable.
In response to a question by Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier, Consovoy could not offer a circumstance where he would view any request for documents as not being overbroad.
“That’s a problem,” Lohier said.
Vance’s probe began more than two years ago, but has been stalled as Trump fights an August 2019 grand jury subpoena to his accounting firm Mazars USA for eight years of his corporate and personal tax returns.
The probe began after Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid hush money to silence two women before the 2016 election about claimed sexual encounters with Trump.
It now appears to go beyond the payments, with Vance saying in court filings he might have grounds to investigate Trump and his businesses for tax and insurance fraud, and that possible bank fraud might also be examined.
Friday’s arguments follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s July 9 rejection of Trump’s claim he was absolutely immune from criminal probes while in the White House.
The Supreme Court said Trump could raise other challenges to the subpoena. Trump has said he expects a return to that court if the appeals court rules against him, as it did last November.
In an Aug. 20 ruling, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero said Vance should obtain the returns, saying Trump’s effort to prolong the dispute could cause statutes of limitations to run out and give him the immunity the Supreme Court rejected.
“Justice requires an end to this controversy,” Marrero wrote.
Trump’s lawyers want the case returned to Marrero so he can review the substance of the president’s arguments, rather than treat them as a repackaging of his immunity claim.
Though the appeal was fast-tracked, the public will likely not know what is in Trump’s tax returns before the Nov. 3 election.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, and if Vance gets the returns it could be months before their contents become public.
All three judges on the appeals court panel were appointed by Democratic presidents, as was Marrero. Vance is also a Democrat.
Trump lawyer faces tough questions from appeals court over president’s tax returns
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