The Supreme Court has brought an abrupt end to Donald Trump’s relentless effort to keep his tax returns secret.
In a landmark decision on Tuesday morning (Australian time), the court declined to shield the former US president’s financial records from a New York grand jury subpoena, which Mr Trump legal team’s has said was issued in bad faith to harass him.
A New York prosecutor, who has been investigating loans that Mr Trump took out for his Manhattan properties, will be able to gain access to personal and corporate tax returns.
Mr Trump’s tax data will not be made public. Under New York state law, information that is turned over to a grand jury must be kept secret.
Regardless, the ruling leaves Mr Trump vulnerable to prosecution as the release of his tax returns advances a criminal probe that appears to be one of the most serious legal threats facing him in his post-presidency.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been investigating loans the former president took out on the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, the Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle, Trump Plaza on the Upper East Side and a skyscraper in the Financial District.
Property records have previously shown that Mr Trump was loaned more than $US280 million ($361 million) for the four Manhattan buildings, which prosecutors believe could possibly reveal “extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organisation”.
Their years-long investigation has been hampered by the fact that Mr Trump has consistently refused to release his taxes, departing from standard practice for presidential candidates.
The New York Times reported in September last year that Mr Trump paid just $US750 ($1070) in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017, and paid no income taxes in 10 of the past 15 years.
That was despite Mr Trump receiving $US427.4 million ($607 million) in 2018 from his reality television program, and other endorsement and licensing deals.
Mr Trump was able to minimise his tax bill by reporting heavy losses across his business empire.
In response to Tuesday’s court ruling, Mr Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars, said it was “committed to fulfilling all of our professional and legal obligations.”
“Due to our industry’s professional obligations Mazars cannot discuss any clients, or the nature of our services we provide for any client, in a public forum without client consent or as required by law,” the statement read.
One of Mr Trump’s personal lawyers William Consovoy had argues that the subpoena served on the Trump Organisation is “geographically sprawling, temporally expansive, and topically unlimited – all attributes that raise suspicions of an unlawful fishing expedition”.
“Even if disclosure is confined to the grand jury and prosecutors,” he said “once the documents are surrendered” confidentially “will be lost for all time,” Mr Consovoy said.