NEW YORK -- Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance could soon get his hands on President Donald Trump's tax returns, but that doesn't mean the public will see them.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the president's claim of absolute immunity shielding his corporate and personal tax records from a subpoena Vance issued to Trump's accounting firm, Mazars LLP, as part of an ongoing grand jury investigation. The case will now go back to a lower federal court, where Trump is promising to continue fighting.
Even if the lower court swiftly grants Vance access, the president's taxes will likely remain secret as long as the district attorney is still investigating.
"Unless somebody is charged with a crime, nobody's going to see these," said Adam Lurie, a former federal prosecutor in New Jersey.
The president downplayed the ruling on Twitter, saying arguments would continue in the lower court, but also expressed displeasure at the 7-2 decision against him.
Vance hailed the decision, calling it "a tremendous victory for our nation's system of justice and its founding principle that no one – not even a president – is above the law." He said the investigation "will resume, guided as always by the grand jury's solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead."
Even if New York prosecutors conclude that the returns contain evidence of a crime, it's unlikely any of the materials would be ready for public disclosure before the election, less than four months from now.
John Moscow, a former prosecutor who oversaw major white-collar investigations at the Manhattan district attorney's office, pointed out that the grand jury process has been delayed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic, likely creating a backlog of violent crime cases. "The chances of an indictment before January would, to me, appear to be slim," he said.
And what charges might emerge from Vance's Trump investigation remains uncertain.
"We don't exactly know what he intends to do with these financial documents," said Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor in New York. "It seems likely that this is a false business records case. It is possibly a tax evasion case."