Trump lawyers complain attorney general tax probe is ‘harassment’ as they fight subpoena to hand over documents

District Attorney is still fishing for a way to justify his harassment of president,’ says one Trump attorney

Lawyers for Donald Trump said on Monday that the local prosecutor seeking eight years of his tax returns in a grand jury investigation was disingenuous in suggesting the probe expanded beyond hush-money payments made to two women during the 2016 campaign, after the prosecutor hinted at a broader review of Mr Trump’s dealings and operations at his company.

The latest dispute arose after Mr Trump launched his most recent challenge to a subpoena to his accounting firm, Mazars USA, for his tax returns following a Supreme Court ruling last month that a sitting president was not immune from state court actions. The nation’s highest court left the door open for Mr Trump to challenge the legality of the subpoena itself – and attorneys for Mr Trump have said the prosecutor’s records search was overboard and amounted to harassment.

In response to a recent filing by the office of Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., D, suggesting that the scope of the investigation was not limited to the 2016 payments and instead included potential “insurance and bank fraud” by the Trump Organisation, Mr Trump’s team accused the district attorney of launching a fishing expedition.

The district attorney’s mention of a wider look at potential criminality appeared to be offered as a defence to Mr Trump’s claim that seeking eight years of tax returns was itself a fishing expedition.

Mr Vance’s last filing in the lawsuit filed by Mr Trump last year to challenge the Mazars subpoena cites news articles, including from The Washington Post, that looked at broader possible targets. But the district attorney also argued he should not have to reveal details about the scope of his investigation.

References to news reports show “that the District Attorney is still fishing for a way to justify his harassment of the President,” Trump attorney William Consovoy wrote in Monday’s filing in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Mr Trump’s legal team has made much of the fact that the subpoena to Mazars was identical to congressional subpoenas previously issued. The lawyers said the copied subpoena is proof that the prosecutor’s office is motivated by politics.

An unredacted version of a sworn statement by a member of the district attorney’s investigation team “confirms that the grand jury is focused on the 2016 payments and that the subpoena” was not copied for convenience’s sake, Mr Consovoy’s reply brief says.

Mr Vance’s office is trying to determine whether the payoffs by former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal were improperly concealed as legal fees. Mr Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan in 2018 to several charges, including campaign finance violations related to payments to Ms Daniels and Ms McDougal, who both alleged affairs with Mr Trump. The president denies having a relationship with either woman.

A spokesman for Mr Vance said the office would reply in writing to Monday’s filing by Mr Trump. The office is expected to respond by Friday.

In its brief to the Supreme Court last year, Mr Vance’s office said its investigation “concerns a variety of business transactions, and is based on information derived from public sources, confidential informants, and the grand jury process”.

The district attorney has argued that Mr Trump’s latest bid to have the subpoena thrown out is a delay tactic and that there is no legal authority that would require the office to reveal the exact nature of the investigation at this point.

Mr Consovoy, in a separate letter filed on Monday, argued to US district judge Victor Marrero that Mr Vance should be ordered to produce discovery that will shed light on the investigation. Mr Consovoy said it would be “especially inappropriate” to deny Mr Trump access to such information in this case and that Vance should have to justify issuing the broad subpoena.

In an unrelated lawsuit brought by an author who accused Mr Trump of rape, the president is expected to give a deposition by 20 October, two weeks before the election. Jean Carroll, who says Mr Trump sexually assaulted her in a dressing room at a Manhattan department store in the 1990s, has sued him, alleging defamation. Ms Carroll’s legal team proposed 21 September for what would be a remote deposition from the White House, but it is unclear whether or how Mr Trump will seek to postpone the proceeding. Mr Trump has denied Ms Carroll’s assertions.

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