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Politics Justice Dept. Urges Supreme Court to Back Trump in Tax Records Case

04:50  23 november  2019
04:50  23 november  2019 Source:   nytimes.com

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The Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Friday urging the Supreme Court to hear President Trump’s appeal seeking to keep his financial records private. Mr. Trump is trying to block a subpoena from Manhattan prosecutors that would require his accounting firm to turn over eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns.

a close up of a bench in front of a building: “This court — not a lower federal court — should decide,” the Justice Department said in a brief, “whether the type of intrusion on the presidency at issue in this case is permissible.”© Al Drago for The New York Times “This court — not a lower federal court — should decide,” the Justice Department said in a brief, “whether the type of intrusion on the presidency at issue in this case is permissible.”

The brief did not adopt the broad position taken by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers in a petition filed last week — that he is immune from criminal investigation while he remains in office. Rather, the department’s brief said that courts should require prosecutors to meet a more demanding standard before they are allowed to obtain the information.

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The brief took pains to say that there was nothing unusual about the department’s participation in the case, noting that it had previously filed friend-of-the-court briefs in cases in which Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton had claimed immunity in civil suits.

“The United States has a substantial interest in protecting the office of the president and the powers and duties vested in that office,” the brief said. “The United States also has a substantial interest in protecting the autonomy of the federal government from potential interference by the states.”

The subpoena from the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat, threatened both interests, the brief said. “This case involves the first attempt in our nation’s history by a local prosecutor to subpoena personal records of the sitting president of the United States,” the brief said.

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The subpoena sought information concerning the reimbursements made to the president’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, for payments to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. The president has denied the relationship.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, ruled this month against Mr. Trump. The court, in a focused ruling, said state prosecutors may require third parties to turn over a sitting president’s financial records for use in a grand jury investigation.

The Justice Department’s brief said that ruling was novel. “The United States is unaware of any precedent for the issuance of a state criminal subpoena for a sitting president’s personal records, and the district attorney and the courts below have never identified one,” the brief said.

“Leaving local prosecutors with unfettered authority to issue such subpoenas creates a serious risk that those prosecutors — prioritizing local concerns and disregarding significant federal interests — may subject the president to highly burdensome demands for information,” the brief said.

The solution, according to the Justice Department, is to insist that the prosecutors show that the information sought is essential to a pending criminal case and that it cannot be obtained elsewhere. To date, the brief said, Mr. Vance has made neither showing.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce in the coming weeks whether it will hear the case from Manhattan as well as a second one arising from a subpoena from a House committee.

“This court — not a lower federal court — should decide,” the Justice Department said, “whether the type of intrusion on the presidency at issue in this case is permissible.”

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