The Manhattan District Attorney's office is accusing President Donald Trump’s lawyers of deliberately stalling a legal battle over a subpoena for eight years of Trump’s tax records.
During a court hearing held by telephone on Thursday, one week to the day after the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s most sweeping arguments against the grand jury subpoena, an attorney from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office said it was evident that Trump’s legal team was playing for time.
“What the president's lawyer is seeking here is delay. That’s the entire strategy here,” Vance’s counsel Carey Dunne said. “It’s been nearly a year since we served our subpoena. ... Let’s not let delay kill this case.”
Trump lawyer William Consovoy didn’t respond directly to that claim, but said there were strong indications that Vance’s investigation was a political errand on behalf of Democratic lawmakers in Washington seeking precisely the same set of records.
“This subpoena is copied verbatim from a congressional subpoena. …The subpoena from New York County is fortuitously exactly the same scope and nature as two [congressional] investigations focused on federal issues,” Consovoy complained.
The Supreme Court ruling last week slammed the door on Trump’s most aggressive argument: that presidents enjoy absolute immunity from state criminal investigations that produce subpoenas like the one issued to his accounting firm last year. However, the justices outlined a series of other claims Trump remains free to raise, like that the subpoena is harassing, overbroad, was issued as an act of retaliation or complying will interfere with his official duties.
Trump has yet to settle on precisely what arguments to raise, Consovoy said, but he suggested the president will argue the subpoena sweeps too broadly and should be pared back.
“The president does believe there are likely to be strong arguments that the subpoena is not tailored,” the attorney said.
However, timing now looms as large as any of the legal issues in the case. To that end, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero opened the teleconference by questioning why the two sides had filed a proposal for nearly another month’s worth of legal filings in the case when that work was completed in six days during the first phase of the case last year.
“It raises a question as to why the parties need so much more additional time,” said Marrero, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.
The judge initially sounded inclined to handle the next phase of the case with what he called greater “alacrity” than the two sides proposed, but he eventually acceded to their suggestion, which calls for Trump to file a new version of his lawsuit against the DA by July 27 and for an exchange of written pleadings through Aug. 14. No date for a future hearing was set.
One of the politically urgent questions posed by the case is whether Vance’s lawyers will get their hands on Trump’s financial records in advance of the November election and, if so, how far in advance. Grand jury submissions are typically kept secret, but the information can be made public if charges are filed.
No one on the nearly 40-minute call Thursday made any reference to the election, but Dunne did say that further delay in the case meant it was possible some individuals might escape justice because the statute of limitation could expire.
The precise scope of Vance’s probe is unclear, but it is believed to involve questions about how Trump’s business recorded so-called hush money payments made to women who were considering making statements during the 2016 campaign about their alleged sexual encounters with Trump. It may also encompass claims former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has made that Trump’s companies routinely inflated real estate valuations when applying for loans and deflated them when trying to shrink tax bills. (Trump has said Cohen was lying to seek to reduce a prison sentence he was facing.)
Marrero sounded puzzled by the suggestion in at least one concurring Supreme Court opinion that Trump should have the opportunity to question Vance’s need for the information. The judge noted that nearly 10 months ago he received a declaration from one of Vance’s prosecutors detailing the scope of the investigation and that office’s need for the information.
After receiving the filing, part of which remains under seal, Marrero concluded that Vance had “a sufficient basis” to issue the subpoena.
Dunne said he doubted there was any need for any further showing on that front from his office, but Consovoy said the president or at least his attorneys should be able to see the now-secret part of what Vance’s office said a year ago had led them to demand access to the president’s taxes.
“We do think discovery is important,” Consovoy said.
However, Dunne insisted that even that request was suggesting the president an advantage over the typical litigant who challenges a similar subpoena. “A person like that, if he doesn’t like a subpoena, he doesn’t get to take the DA’s deposition,” Vance’s aide noted.