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Supreme Court denies Trump's request to shield his tax records

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The Supreme Court has cleared the way for the accounting firm for former President Donald Trump to turn over his tax documents and financial records to prosecutors in New York City. CBS News legal contributor Keir Dougall joined CBSN to break down what this means for the case.

Video Transcript

- The Supreme Court has denied former President Trump's last ditch request to block the release of his financial records to New York prosecutors. The decision means the former president's accounting firm, Mazars, must comply with a subpoena issued by Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance. The DA has sought all of Mr. Trump's tax records dating back to 2011. The scope of Vance's investigation at this point is unclear. The former president has fought hard to keep his financial information hidden, saying he is under audit.

"The New York Times" published many of the former president's tax records in 2020. The report showed that Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes for 11 of the 18 years examined by the paper. "The Times" also reported he had paid just $750 in taxes in both 2016 and 2017. For more, I'm joined by Keir Dougall. He's a CBS News legal contributor and former federal prosecutor in New York's Eastern District. So, Keir, now that Mazars has got to turn over the tax information to the grand jury, what comes next in the investigation?

KEIR DOUGALL: Well, some analysis. I would expect it to be relatively quick. I expect them to dive into the records quickly. As we know from reporting, what they're looking at are potential insurance fraud and other types of fraud issues, also records and reporting issues in connection with the porn star hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. And so, that's the background of this investigation. I would expect their analysis to move quickly. In the grand jury, which as you mentioned, it's secret.

- So, I'm curious then, Keir, if the investigation uncovers evidence of fraud, evidence of tax evasion, what are the penalties? I mean, could we potentially be talking jail time?

KEIR DOUGALL: Yeah, sure, definitely. Those are serious-- potentially serious felonies. And yes, the short answer to that is yes. This is very, very serious.

- So we don't know much about the scope of Vance's investigation. I do note there was a tweet from the DA's office, and it just simply said-- I'm paraphrasing here, but the investigation or the work continues. What have you-- I mean, the question has always been, what is the scope of this investigation? And it's never been clear. I mean, people have their opinions, but those opinions tend to come from a political bias, frankly. What could he possibly be looking at?

KEIR DOUGALL: Well, they come from sources like Michael Cohen's testimony in Congress last year. Admittedly, Mr. Cohen has potential bias in what he is telling us, but, you know, and it also comes from some educated guessing, as you mentioned, from "The New York Times" reporting and other reporting. But, you know, look, the process is one that is very frustrating because we all want to know what's happening.

But what we'll see, we'll either see that the grand jury returns charges and returns allegations of crimes. They would only be allegations at that point, or they don't. And so, we will-- we'll know a lot more, I think. Certainly, if the grand jury returns charges, we'll know what they have been investigating at that time.

But based on the information in the reporting about how the payments were made to people like McDougall and Daniels to hush up their stories in advance of the election and the testimony of Mr. Cohen, we know there are allegations out there that deserve to be looked at. And the Supreme Court now has greenlighted this subpoena for what are tax records are in a case like this, in a fraud case relating to businesses or payments like this. This is standard prosecutorial practice to gather the financial information to follow the money. So but we will know more as the grand jury does its work.

- One last question here. If Cyrus Vance does return charges, criminal charges, will we, the public, ever know what was in former President Trump's tax returns? I mean, if they're charging a former president with potential crimes in which he could go to jail, should the public be made aware of what was so explosive in those tax returns? Or will we never know?

KEIR DOUGALL: Well, that depends on what happens, assume-- this is a big if. If the grand jury returns charges, there are sort of two principal outcomes. One is a potential guilty plea, and the other is a trial. And so, if the president, former President Trump, were to deny guilt, insist on a trial, then his tax return information could become public as exhibits and evidence entered into the trial record as evidence of the crimes that were alleged against President Trump. That's how we would likely see them if we do see them.

- All right, Keir Dougall, thank you.

KEIR DOUGALL: Thank you, Vlad.