On Monday, the Supreme Court finally ended the long legal saga over them with a one-sentence order that will allow Manhattan prosecutors to obtain Trump’s returns and related documents from the Trump Organization. These had been subpoenaed back in 2019; Trump’s lawsuit to conceal them always seemed more about delay than meritorious legal issues.
This information will likely be in the hands of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and his team for their grand jury investigation within the next few days.
And now things will get interesting. While Trump’s lawyers have repeatedly tried to characterize the DA’s probe as being just about hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the lead-up to the 2016 election, Vance’s office has long maintained that it is investigating much more than that.
Manhattan investigators are likely focused on bank loans, insurance applications and other kinds of financial transactions related to Trump-owned properties to determine whether he or his companies violated any state laws. They are reportedly looking at the conduct of the former president, as well as the Trump Organization and certain of its other top executives.
Vance’s team has not been twiddling its thumbs while waiting for the court to clear the way for Trump’s accountants to hand over the documents. Vance added forensic investigators to the team and earlier this month swore in a highly experienced former federal prosecutor. Subpoenas have been issued, investigatory leads have been followed and witnesses have been interviewed.
One of them, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, has been interviewed at least four times, including as recently as Thursday, according to news reports. And the pace of the investigation will only accelerate now.
But while untangling eight years of complicated financial transactions can take time, Vance’s team likely is not starting from ground zero, even with respect to documents that Trump is being forced to turn over for the first time. Not only have investigators learned a lot about Trump’s potential criminality from their independent probe over the last year and a half, it’s entirely possible that prosecutors already had access to the tax returns and some of the other information that the former president’s accountants will now officially release.
The fact is, prosecutors and their investigators have sources, just like reporters do, and if the New York Times got copies of Trump’s tax returns, Vance’s team may have as well.
Even where prosecutors obtain information informally, they still need to obtain the information through official channels to comply with evidentiary requirements and establish the documents’ authenticity and chain of custody. But if Vance’s team did get some or all of these documents through a leak or an informant, for example, they will already have been able to move ahead with investigatory steps based on that information.
If they have, we may be closer to the end of this investigation than the beginning. Former president Trump reportedly has been quite worried about a possible prosecution for his role in the January 6 insurrection. I suspect, given the vitriolic statement Trump issued Monday about losing the tax returns subpoena — it was a “fishing expedition” he said, and he was being “persecuted”– that he is very worried about the Vance investigation as well.
He should be. It has taken many months of legal wrangling for Vance’s subpoena to be honored; it may be just a matter of weeks before he is in a position to make charging decisions.