A federal judge in New York City has ordered President Donald Trump to release his income and corporate tax returns for eight years while dismissing arguments by Trump's lawyers the president enjoys absolute immunity from criminal investigations while in office.
Judge Victor Marrero, Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, also blasted Trump's immunity claim as "repugnant to the nation's governmental structure and constitutional values."
In his 75-page decision, Marrero also said he can't "square a vision of presidential immunity that would place the President above the law." He said Trump failed to show enforcing the subpoena will interfere with his presidential duties, cause irreparable harm or be against the public interest, as his lawyers allege.
Marrero also rejected as too broad the idea of protecting Trump, his family and his businesses from the criminal process.
"The expansive notion of constitutional immunity invoked here to shield the President from the judicial process would constitute an overreach of executive power," wrote Marrero in his decision.
Marrero said even former president Richard Nixon, who resigned from office rather than be completely impeached, conceded during the Watergate scandal he would be required to produce documents in response to a judicial subpoena.
Trump's tax returns, however, won't be turned over immediately to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan granted Trump's request to temporarily block the order. The appeals court claims the case has "unique issues" justifying a delay.
Vance had subpoenaed Trump's personal and corporate tax returns from 2011 to 2018 and other records from Trump's accounts, Mazars USA. Vance's subpoena was part of his criminal probe into Trump and his family business.
His investigation focuses on whether the Trump Organization violated any New York state laws -- including the filing of false business records -- to reimburse Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, who paid hush money on Trump's behalf so buy the silence of female witnesses against Trump. Cohen is in jail after pleading guilty in a federal case concerning these payments.
Marrero's ruling means Trump's tax returns will eventually be provided to Vance. Trump's tax returns will only become public if it were used as evidence at a trial since material obtained through a grand jury subpoena is covered by grand jury secrecy rules.
The U.S. Constitution does specifically state whether a sitting president can be indicted. The Supreme Court for decades has refused to decide the issue.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) claims federal prosecutors can't charge a sitting president because presidents have temporary immunity. This temporary immunity, however, doesn't prevent criminal probes by state-level prosecutors like Vance or even federal prosecutors.
Marrero repudiated the DOJ conclusion in its memos that holds Trump can't be indicted or criminally prosecuted.
"[T]he Court rejects the DOJ Memos' position," wrote Marrero. "It concludes that better-calibrated alternatives to absolute presidential immunity exist yielding a more appropriate balance between, on the one hand, the burdens that subjecting the President to criminal proceedings would impose on his ability to perform constitutional duties, and, on the other, the need to promote the courts' legitimate interests and functions in ensuring effective law enforcement attendant to the proper and fair administration of justice."
He warned that preventing the pursuit of criminal justice in the face of an assertion of immunity "should be an absolutely last resort."
"It should be justified by exacting reasons of momentous public interest such as national security, and be reviewable by a court of law," Marrero wrote.
"Above all, its effects should be not to shield the President from all legal process, especially in circumstances where it may appear that a claim of generalized immunity is invoked more on personal than on official grounds, and work to place the President above the law."