The three-judge appeals panel did not take a position on the president’s biggest argument: that he is immune from all criminal investigations. A lower court had called that argument “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.” Instead, the appeals court said the president’s accounting firm, not Trump himself, was subpoenaed for the documents, so it did not matter whether presidents have immunity. “We emphasise again the narrowness of the issue before us,” the decision read. “This appeal does not require us to consider whether the president is immune from indictment and prosecution while in office, nor to consider whether the president may lawfully be ordered to produce documents for use in a state criminal proceeding.”
But the tax returns are not likely to be handed over soon. Trump has fought vigorously to shield his financial records, and the case appears headed to the US Supreme Court.
The legal fight began in late August after the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, a Democrat, subpoenaed Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, for his tax returns and those of his family business dating to 2011. Prosecutors in the office are investigating the role of the president and his business in hush-money payments made to two women just before the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s lawyers sued to block the subpoena, writing that the criminal investigation of the president was unconstitutional. They asserted that presidents have such unique power and responsibility that they cannot be subject to the burden of investigations. Trump’s lawyers have said the probe by Vance, a Democrat, is politically motivated. Vance’s probe comes as the president faces impeachment hearings after the president tried to get Ukraine’s leader to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.