The Supreme Court declined Monday to block a New York grand jury from getting former President Donald Trump's personal and corporate tax returns, a decisive defeat in his long legal battle to keep his tax records out of investigators' hands.
The ruling doesn't mean the returns will become public any time soon, and they might never be publicly released. Under New York state law, materials turned over to a grand jury must be kept secret. But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance can now require Trump's accountants to turn over the records that Trump has steadfastly refused to surrender to prosecutors or Congress.
"The work continues," Vance said in response to the order.
Trump issued a long statement decrying the order as the continuation of a politically motivated witch hunt, and he vowed to "fight on."
"The Supreme Court never should have let this 'fishing expedition' happen, but they did," the statement said. "This is something which has never happened to a President before, it is all Democrat-inspired in a totally Democrat location, New York City and State, completely controlled and dominated by a heavily reported enemy of mine, Governor Andrew Cuomo."
Vance is seeking tax returns covering eight years for a grand jury investigation of hush money payments and other financial transactions. The investigation began after it was disclosed that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her claim that she had an affair with Trump, an allegation he has denied.
Cohen also alleged to Congress that the Trump Organization sometimes lied about its financial condition to evade taxes or obtain favorable loan terms.
In July, the Supreme Court rejected Trump's contention that as a sitting president he was immune from any part of the criminal justice system — including grand jury investigations. But the decision said he could go back to the lower courts to make the same arguments available to anyone who is trying to defeat a subpoena.
A month later, a federal judge in New York ruled against Trump's renewed effort to toss out the subpoena, describing the legal attack as merely a repackaged version of his original immunity argument. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling.
Trump's legal team said that the subpoena was vastly overbroad and that it had been issued in bad faith to harass him. If all Vance was looking at were the payments made by Cohen, it said, it wouldn't explain why Vance simply copied a much broader subpoena issued by a congressional committee.
The first subpoena issued by a state for the records of a sitting president should have been properly tailored, his attorneys told the Supreme Court.
"Its near limitless reach — in time, scope, and geographic reach — has all the hallmarks of a fishing expedition," his attorneys told the Supreme Court. "And the fact that the subpoena was issued to a third-party custodian while tensions were running high between the Trump Organization and the district attorney, and for dubious reasons of efficiency, only makes the allegation of bad faith that much more plausible."
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But in recent court filings, Vance has hinted that the scope of his work may be broader than just the hush money payments.
"The investigation concerns a variety of business transactions and is based on information derived from public sources, confidential informants, and the grand jury process," and it could include falsifying business records, insurance fraud and tax fraud, Vance told the appeals court.
Now that the Supreme Court has cleared the way for Vance to enforce the subpoena, Trump has exhausted his legal options to block it. The full tax return documents, or parts of them, would become public only if Vance brings criminal charges and seeks to introduce them as evidence.
Trump's longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, said it was aware of the order and "remains committed to fulfilling all of our professional and legal obligations."
The firm said it couldn't publicly discuss the services it provides clients without their consent or as required by law.