President Trump paid little to no federal income taxes in recent years, according to the first series of New York Times stories on his tax returns.
ALBANY – President Donald Trump’s taxes were already at the center of at least two major New York investigations, even before The New York Times published a report Sunday on a trove of returns that raise a new round of questions and concerns.
New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s investigators have been scrutinizing the president and his companies for more than a year, with Vance’s battle to obtain Trump’s tax returns going the whole way to the Supreme Court.
In recent weeks, court filings from James and Vance have shed more light on the scope of their respective investigations and the type of potentially improper activity they’re looking for.
Now, those investigations will likely get fresh attention in the midst of the investigative report by The New York Times, which analyzed more than 15 years of Trump’s federal tax filings the newspaper obtained from confidential sources.
Here’s a closer look at the investigations:
Payment probe leads to Trump tax battle
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office has been locked in a battle for Trump’s returns since at least early 2019, when Trump sued Vance in an attempt to block the prosecutor’s subpoena for tax records.
At the time, Vance, a Democrat, was investigating a $130,000 hush-money payment made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, to adult-film star Stormy Daniels at the height of the presidential campaign in 2016. Daniels claimed she had an affair with Trump years ago.
Cohen admitted he was reimbursed by Trump and the Trump Organization, raising questions about whether any business records were falsified to shield from potential political damage.
Vance subpoenaed for eight years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns from Mazars USA, the president’s accounting firm. Last year, Trump sued in federal court to block the release, arguing the whole way to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court rejected Trump’s argument that he was entitled to immunity as president of the United States. But the court allowed Trump, a Republican, to return to the lower courts to make other arguments against the subpoena, including whether it is overbroad and burdensome.
Court papers suggest Trump fraud probe could be warranted
That court battle continues, with Trump and Vance’s attorneys arguing the case in a mid-level appeals court just last week.
As part of those arguments, Vance’s team submitted a court filing that suggested Trump could be subjected to a broader fraud investigation, citing a previous New York Times report and other news articles scrutinizing the Trump family’s tax strategies and the approaches it used to maximize the inheritance from the president’s father.
That’s why Trump shouldn’t be able to block Vance’s subpoena for his tax records, Vance’s team argued.
“Indeed, the temporal scope of the subpoena is moderate when compared to the temporal scope of misconduct alleged in public reports,” the filing reads.
In reply, Trump’s attorneys accused Vance of engaging in “speculation and innuendo,” accusing him of being “engaged in a fishing expedition designed to harass the President”
AG probing whether Trump inflated value of properties
New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, launched an investigation of her own after Cohen testified before Congress in February 2019, accusing Trump of inflating his assets for personal gain.
Like Vance’s inquiry, a big part of James’ investigation appears focused on Trump’s taxes.
Last month, James’ office laid out the scope of her current investigation in a wide-ranging court motion seeking to force Eric Trump, the president’s son, to sit for a deposition.
Her investigation is focused on whether Trump improperly inflated the value of four properties – including his massive Seven Springs estate in northern Westchester County – to obtain tax benefits and better terms on bank loans.
In 2015, Donald Trump agreed to a conservation easement with the North American Land Trust for a 159-acre portion of the 212-acre Seven Springs property, vowing not to develop the land there after years of trying to turn it into a golf course or luxury housing.
The court filing shows James’ office is examining whether Trump inflated the assessed value of the sprawling property, which allowed one of his limited liability companies to claim a $21.1 million tax exemption on forms submitted to the IRS.
The Attorney General’s Office is also focusing on three other Trump properties, according to the motion: 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago and the Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles.
Last week, a state judge ordered Eric Trump to sit for a deposition with James’ office by Oct. 7, rejecting Trump’s push to delay the interview until after the election.
Like Vance’s investigation, James’ office has not accused Trump or his associates of any legal wrongdoing at this point.
Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.
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