Feds get Monday deadline to decide on Trump tax return fight

Larry Neumeister
Associated Press

New York – A judge delayed enforcement of a subpoena seeking President Donald Trump’s tax returns Wednesday until at least next week.

The delay came as the Justice Department was told to decide by Monday whether it will join Trump’s fight to block the state grand jury subpoena for tax records that was served on his longtime accountant.

The fight is playing out the day after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump over allegations that he tried to coerce the government of Ukraine into launching an investigation of one of his possible election foes, Democrat Joe Biden.

In this Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, file photo, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance speaks during a discussion in Salt Lake City.

Late Tuesday, Manhattan federal prosecutors cited “weighty constitutional issues” as they told U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero that they’d like until mid-October to submit written arguments. Marrero gave them until next Wednesday.

“To the extent that enforcement of the subpoena may adversely affect federal interests of constitutional dimension, those effects could not be redressed after the fact,” the prosecutors said.

Lawyers for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said any delay is damaging, particularly because statute of limitations regarding potential charges are in play.

Carey Dunne, Vance’s general counsel, said the grand jury is looking at conduct engaged in by a wide variety of parties and businesses.

Attorney William Consovoy, representing Trump , said the president is immune from any criminal investigation as long as he is in the White House.

“The idea that any state, New York or any other, could decide that they would indict a sitting president, there is no support for that while he is president,” he said.

The subpoena seeking returns issued as part of Vance’s investigation into the Trump Organization’s involvement in buying the silence of two women who could have embarrassed the president with stories of extramarital affairs during his 2016 campaign.

Trump’s lawyers have assailed the investigation as politically motivated, saying Vance, a Democrat, is “charging down this blatantly unconstitutional path” purely to harass the president.

Attorneys for Vance say that the investigation is valid, and that if the court fully accepts Trump’s argument, it would mean that presidents would not have to comply with grand jury subpoenas regarding their conduct out of office, and could also extend that immunity to associates and employees.

“The law provides no such sweeping immunity,” they wrote.

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to investigate presidents and remove them from office, but the law over whether a sitting president can be indicted and prosecuted in a state or federal court is unsettled.

Vance launched his investigation after federal prosecutors ended their investigation into payments that Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged for the porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal to keep them quiet during the presidential race. The Trump Organization later reimbursed Cohen for his work.

Vance’s inquiry is said to be examining whether the payments or reimbursements broke any state laws.

The Trump Organization complied with an earlier round of subpoenas seeking records related to its dealings with Cohen, who pleaded guilty to separate federal campaign law violations, but Trump balked when the prosecutors subpoenaed his accounting firm, Mazars USA, for his tax returns.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said the White House strategy was likely aimed at delaying litigation rather than airing out thorny legal issues.

“The White House has a blanket ‘no’ on everything,” he said. “At some point, they’re not going to be able to stop all of them. I think they’re just trying to run out the clock, get him reelected.”