Donald Trump has asked the Supreme Court to block a subpoena from New York prosecutors that seeks to obtain his tax returns, setting up a constitutional battle that will be decided in the middle of his 2020 re-election campaign.
The president on Tuesday appealed a federal appeals court decision which ruled earlier this week that Manhattan’s district attorney, Cyrus Vance, was legally permitted to obtain Mr Trump’s tax returns from his accountants, Mazars USA.
In the Supreme Court petition, Mr Trump asked the high court, which has a conservative majority including two justices he appointed, to find that he has “absolute immunity” from criminal investigation while in office.
“If the president were prosecuted, the steward of all the people would be hijacked from his duties by an official of few (or none) of them,” his attorneys wrote in the 37-page appeal.
The appeal comes from just one of a series of cases involving weighty questions about whether Mr Trump’s business affairs can be investigated by prosecutors and Congress, which is in the midst of an impeachment investigation.
In Washington, a federal appeals court has ruled that congressional investigators can obtain his financial records. Mr Trump is likely to also appeal that decision to the Supreme Court, his Thursday filing said.
Mr Trump’s assertion of broad immunity not just from indictment, but from any part of the investigatory process, could force the Supreme Court, at last, to rule on whether presidents are free from prosecution as long as they remain in the White House.
For decades, the Department of Justice has held the president cannot be indicted under federal law, though it has allowed federal investigations of sitting presidents to go forward. The most recent example was in the Russia probe, where Robert Mueller investigated Mr Trump’s conduct during the 2016 campaign and in the White House. The justice department has no authority over state prosecutors, however.
In cases involving Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, the US high court has said the president must turn over evidence to a criminal trial and that the chief executive is not immune from civil lawsuits. It has never directly said whether or not the president can be prosecuted.
“The court’s previous immunity cases identified the key elements of this case — targeting a president for criminal investigation through coercive process issued by a local official — as an unresolved issue, and carefully reserved the question. The court should decide it now,” Mr Trump’s appeal said.
“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant review in this significant constitutional case and reverse the dangerous and damaging decision of the appeals court,” said Jay Sekulow, an attorney for Mr Trump.
A spokesman for Mr Vance said the district attorney would reply in an opposition brief next week and declined to comment further.
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