Trump's Taxes Are In The Hands Of Prosecutors...So What?

In July 2020, the United States Supreme Court gave former President Donald Trump a devastating legal blow. In a 7-2 ruling, they refused to reverse a low court's decision to allow New York State prosecutors the ability to see the former President's tax returns. Former President Trump had tried desperately to stop prosecutors from accessing his tax returns, arguing that his taxes were shielded from investigation. If this legal theory was upheld, it would have represented a dramatic expansion of presidential powers. 

This decision wasn't quite the end of the effort by the former President to shield his taxes. The July ruling did send the case back to lower federal courts, allowing the President to make additional appeals based on the scope of the subpoena. However, that ruling was turned away a few days ago, with the Court declining to overturn federal court rulings that allowed the documents to be turned over. Trump's accounting firm has since given all requested taxes to the District Attorney's office, and the legal dispute is now essentially over. 

Why Do Prosecutors Want Trump's Taxes?

The taxes were sought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance as part of an ongoing investigation into "possible criminal activity" by the Trump organization and the former President himself. Specifically, the tax investigation relates to payments that the former President made to two women to cover up extramarital affairs. 

The specific documents related to ta returns filed by Trump and the Trump organization between 2011-2019. They are believed to be millions of pages of documents, and it will likely take some time before any conclusions can be drawn from the documents. 

What Comes Next?

The returns will be reviewed by prosecutors for potential criminal activity. The District Attorney is believed to have used on-staff accounting experts to examine the taxes. This will not be a quick investigation: Given the length and breadth of the documents, the investigation will take weeks, if not months. District Attorney Vance has also hired well-known financial experts for his staff, presumably to assist with this investigation.

However, from here, little is known. Prosecutorial investigations usually operate with at least some degree of secrecy, and this makes it hard to speculate about what specific charges District Attorney Vance may be looking at filing. While there have long been suspicions and allegations of illegal financial activity by Trump and his business, no additional specifics have been known. Vance has also not commented publicly on what charges he may be looking into filing, when he will file these charges, or what laws Trump or his business may have broken.

In other words: Any speculation about what Vance may be looking to do next is just speculation. No one except those closest to the investigation really knows. 

Will the Public Ever See the Taxes?

This is a question that many are seeking answers to. Trump became the first President in modern history to decline to release his taxes, falsely arguing that he couldn't do so since they were under audit. According to the ruling, the taxes are not to be public, as they are shielded from public view as part of an ongoing investigation.

However, there is one scenario in which the taxes could become public: If charges are ever filed against the former President or other members of the Trump organization. If that is the case, evidence typically becomes publicly available - particularly if it is presented in court. Indeed, if there are financial charges against the former President, his tax filings would almost certainly be a highlight of the evidence of this investigation. 

This may not satisfy the public's curiosity, but it is the only thing available to the public: We will all only get to see what is in the former President's taxes if charges are filed. If no charges are filed, we may never get to see what he has been hiding for so long, save for the previous media reports that have examined what he has paid in taxes. However, the Supreme Court's ruling - and subsequent turnover of his taxes to District Attorney Vance - does set the stage to allow people to be one step closer to seeing the former President's taxes. 

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