Politics

Justice Department wants federal court to decide if Manhattan district attorney can subpoena Trump tax returns

Key Points
  • The Justice Department says in a court filing that it wants a federal judge, rather than a New York state judge, to decide whether President Donald Trump can block the Manhattan District Attorney from getting his personal and corporate tax returns with a grand jury subpoena.
  • The filing in Manhattan federal court does not take a position on whether the subpoena for Trump's tax returns is valid.
  • Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office in August got a grand jury to issue a subpoena demanding eight years of Trump's tax returns from his accounting firm, Mazars USA.
President Donald J. Trump and Attorney General William Barr depart after delivering remarks on citizenship and the census in the Rose Garden at the White House on Thursday, July 11th, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images

The Justice Department on Wednesday said in a court filing that it wants a federal judge, rather than a New York state judge, to decide whether President Donald Trump can block the Manhattan District Attorney's Office from getting his personal and corporate tax returns with a grand jury subpoena.

The filing by the Justice Department with Manhattan federal court Judge Victor Marrero did not take a position on whether the subpoena for Trump's tax returns is valid.

Instead, the department argues that there are "weighty constitutional issues involved" that are more appropriately decided by a federal judge, Marrero, as opposed to a state one.

The filing said that blocking the subpoena until Marrero can rule on those issues "will prevent irreparable harm to the President's asserted constitutional interests in not having his records subjected to state criminal compulsory process in these circumstances."

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The Justice Department says that such a delay will give the department time to file briefs on the question of the validity of a subpoena for a sitting president's tax returns.

The filing came in response to Marrero's directive to federal prosecutors last week to declare if they had an opinion about the issue.

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office in August got a grand jury to issue a subpoena demanding eight years of Trump's tax returns from his accounting firm, Mazars USA, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Vance is investigating how the Trump Organization accounted for hush-money payments made by others to two women — porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — shortly before the 2016 presidential election to keep them quiet about their alleged sexual trysts with Trump.

The president denies having sex with either woman.

Trump has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns himself, despite a longstanding practice by past presidents of doing so.

Trump's lawyers have filed a lawsuit asking Marrero to block Vance's subpoena, arguing that Trump cannot be criminally investigated while in office. That argument has never been ruled on by a court.

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Vance's office has objected to having a federal judge rule on the issue of the subpoena, saying it should be hashed out in Manhattan Supreme Court, which is a state entity.

But last week, Vance's office agreed to delay trying to enforce the subpoena until next Monday, or until two business days after Marrero rules on whether the subpoena can be executed.

A spokesman for Vance declined to comment when asked about the Justice Department's new filing.