Mystery ended: SCOTUS refuses to block Vance subpoena for Trump tax records

After waiting for months, the mystery ended this morning in the Supreme Court fight over Donald Trump’s tax records. The new mystery might be why it ended as quietly as it did. Without any comment or apparent dissent, the justices denied Trump’s application for a stay against Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance’s subpoenas:

The high court’s decision to turn down Trump’s request for a stay of a grand jury subpoena advances a criminal probe by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. that appears to be one of the most serious of an array of legal threats Trump faces in his post-presidency.

The justices issued no explanation for the denial and no member of the court publicly noted any dissent.

No comment at all, after keeping everyone waiting for this long? Clearly the issue wasn’t dissent over the decision, at least not strong enough to merit a public airing. That makes it look as though the court decided to deliberately wait for the election, and now likely Trump’s second impeachment, to fully play out before taking any action on the stay request. That might have been a smart play, but it will generate a lot of questions about whether the court was playing politics all along.

Nevertheless, the belated decision will make life easier for Vance, even if he had to wait several months to get an answer to Trump’s stay request. Vance had already begun a work-around, or perhaps another angle to his corruption probe involving Trump and his businesses:

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has issued a subpoena to the New York City Tax Commission as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s businesses.

The move is the latest indication that Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance is examining whether Trump understated the value of his New York properties in order to derive a tax benefit, according to Reuters.

New York City Tax Commission documents, along with other documents already sought from Trump’s creditors, would show whether Trump overstated his properties’ value when seeking loans but understated it for tax purposes. …

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has also issued subpoenas for two of Trump’s creditors – Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Finance LLC. Both helped to finance his real estate holdings.

If the documents show that the Trump Organization claimed significantly lower valuations for the same properties in tax filings than it did when seeking loans, it could be open to a charge of fraud. The properties in question include Trump Tower and Trump Plaza.

On top of that, Vance added some heft to his litigation team late last week. It looks as though Vance thinks he might have something already:

As the Manhattan district attorney’s office steps up the criminal investigation of Donald J. Trump, it has reached outside its ranks to enlist a prominent former federal prosecutor to help scrutinize financial dealings at the former president’s company, according to several people with knowledge of the matter.

The former prosecutor, Mark F. Pomerantz, has deep experience investigating and defending white-collar and organized crime cases, bolstering the team under District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that is examining Mr. Trump and his family business, the Trump Organization.

The investigation by Mr. Vance, a Democrat, is focused on possible tax and bank-related fraud, including whether the Trump Organization misled its lenders or local tax authorities about the value of his properties to obtain loans and tax benefits, the people with knowledge of the matter said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court will open the gates on Trump’s personal income, which if nothing else could prove politically valuable down the road, although grand-jury rules should prohibit their release in the short term. CNN calls this a “massive blow” to Trump and a “bitter loss” on his attempts to keep his tax returns under wraps:

The ruling is a bitter loss for Trump, even if the tax records are shielded from public disclosure, after he consistently argued that the subpoena issued by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was overbroad and issued in bad faith.

It means that the grand jury investigation into alleged hush money payments and other issues will no longer be hampered by Trump’s fight to keep the documents secret.

If the grand jury presents an indictment, those tax records will become public evidence, along with the tax valuations and loan records that Vance has subpoenaed. That would certainly be a windfall for Trump’s political opponents, but Trump might have bigger worries now from Vance than just oppo research on a maybe-maybe-not presidential run in 2024.

Vance is still a long way off from either an indictment, let alone a conviction, so speculation is just that — spitballing. With that caveat, consider another mystery, or at least a hypothetical about Trump’s base. If Vance does get an indictment for fraud against Trump himself, would that be enough to derail his political career? Trump has bragged (obviously hyperbolically) that he could murder a man on Fifth Avenue and his base would stick with him, but one has to wonder whether any of his supporters would really peel off at that point. A conviction would disqualify Trump from office (assuming a felony, of course), but even a conviction might not have a lot of impact on his support. Trump might still have enough juice to play kingmaker, even if he gets removed from the line of succession himself.

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