The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court on Friday to stop the release of President Trump’s tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, arguing that local prosecutors should have to meet a very high legal bar before investigating a sitting president.
The filing meant Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department was lending support to his attempt to block a subpoena issued to his accounting firm for eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns. The district attorney’s office issued the subpoena in late August as part of an investigation into hush-money payments made in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
But in its filing, the Justice Department, which is led by Attorney General William P. Barr, stopped short of endorsing Mr. Trump’s most sweeping argument: that sitting presidents are totally immune from all criminal investigations.
On Monday, Judge Victor Marrero of United States District Court in Manhattan rejected Mr. Trump’s effort to shield his tax returns from the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. Mr. Trump had argued that the Constitution prevented sitting presidents from being subject to criminal investigations, especially from a local prosecutor, such as Mr. Vance.
Judge Marrero called the position “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.”
Before filing the brief on Friday, the Justice Department had not weighed in with its view about the merits of Mr. Trump’s lawsuit, which makes an argument that is not addressed in the Constitution and has not been tested in the courts.
But after Mr. Trump appealed Judge Marrero’s ruling, the department wrote to the appeals court, saying the president’s lawsuit raised “a number of significant constitutional issues that potentially implicate the interests of the United States.”
The dispute arose after Mr. Vance’s office subpoenaed Mr. Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, in late August, seeking his personal and corporate tax returns dating to 2011.
Mr. Vance’s office has been examining whether any New York State laws were broken when Mr. Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, reimbursed the president’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, for payments he made to the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels, who had said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. He has denied the relationship.
Mr. Trump filed suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan, seeking to block the subpoena. His lawyers argued that enforcement of the subpoena was a politically motivated action by Mr. Vance’s office and that its enforcement would cause the president irreparable harm.
“Criminal investigations impose severe burdens on the president and distract him from his constitutional duties,” the president’s lawyers wrote.
Mr. Vance’s office, rejecting the president’s arguments, had claimed that Mr. Trump was trying to “invent and enforce a new presidential ‘tax return privilege.’”
Mr. Vance’s office is scheduled to file its appeals brief on Tuesday, and the court has said it will hear arguments on the matter on Oct. 23.
Mr. Trump has challenged attempts by Congress to obtain his tax returns. On Friday, a separate federal appeals court panel in Washington ruled that the House Oversight Committee can subpoena Mazars for eight years of the president’s financial records.
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