WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's tax returns can be turned over to state criminal investigators by his personal accountant, a federal appeals court in New York ruled Monday.
The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is certain to be further appealed after lawyers for the president promised to do so and the three-judge appeals panel predicted it.
In the written decision, the judges said they only decided whether a state prosecutor can demand Trump's personal financial records while the president is in office. The appeals court said it did not consider whether the president is immune from indictment and prosecution while in office or whether the president may be ordered to produce documents in a state criminal proceeding.
"We hold that any presidential immunity from state criminal process does not bar the enforcement of such a subpoena," the 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann wrote.
The decision upholds a lower-court ruling rejecting Trump's lawsuit seeking to block his accountant from letting a grand jury see his tax records from 2011.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. sought the records in a broader probe that includes payments made to buy the silence of two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal, who claim they had affairs with the president before the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied them.
Danny Frost, a spokesman for Vance, declined comment.
The lawyer who argued the case on Trump's behalf before the appeals court did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The U.S. Supreme Court will likely have the last word on whether Trump can shield himself from Vance's efforts to explore the president's financial records since 2011, including his tax returns.
Trump's lawyer told the three-judge appeals panel this month that Trump is immune from state criminal law even if he shoots someone because he's president.
Vance's attorneys have argued that Trump is not above the law while the president's lawyers have said the Constitution prohibits states from subjecting the U.S. president to criminal process while he is in office.
Vance's lawyers have said in court papers that the records being sought relate to business and financial matters rather than official acts by Trump and primarily stem from the time period before he became president.
In the subpoena to Trump's longtime accountant, Vance's lawyers call for financial and tax records of entities and individuals, including Trump, who engaged in business transactions in Manhattan.
Trump's lawyers have said the probe by Vance, a Democrat, is politically motivated.
U.S. Justice Department lawyers in Washington also urged the 2nd Circuit to reverse the findings of the lower court, saying Vance must prove "particularized need" for the records before they are released to a grand jury.
Vance's investigation comes as the president faces impeachment hearings initiated by House Democrats after the president tried to get Ukraine's leader to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.