(CN) – The Justice Department argued Wednesday that a judge should put a hold on the legal fight over whether the Manhattan district attorney can obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns, and said the matter belongs in federal court.
In late August, DA Cyrus Vance subpoenaed Trump’s accounting firm Mazars for eight years of his federal financial records as part of a criminal investigation into money paid to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election campaign.
Trump responded by suing Vance last month in a federal court in New York. He called the subpoena and criminal probe unconstitutional under federal law, which he argues prevents him from being subjected to a “criminal process.” He asked the court to block Vance’s subpoena, which the prosecutor argues is valid.
The Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the Trump lawsuit on Wednesday. Its lawyers argued the dispute should be decided in federal court, not state court. They asked the court to temporarily put a hold on the dispute until the “significant constitutional issues” are resolved. The Justice Department did not take a position on Vance’s assertion that the state should see the returns.
Even though Vance had subpoenaed Trump’s accounting firm, the president should not lose the right to decide his claims in a federal court, DOJ lawyers argued.
“Doing so will prevent irreparable harm to the President’s asserted constitutional interest in not having his records subjected to state criminal compulsory process in these circumstances,” the filing states.
Vance’s office declined to comment. An attorney for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump departed from convention by refusing to release his tax returns, claiming that they were under audit by the IRS. Tax experts say that an audit does not prevent their release. Trump now argues in his complaint that the Supremacy Clause under the Constitution means the state cannot demand them under subpoena.
President Trump argued in his complaint that throughout his time in office, his political opponents had used their power to “harass, intimidate him, and prevent his reelection.” House Democrats and other state officials have fought for their release.
In court documents supporting a motion to dismiss, Vance’s office said that Trump had made the “remarkable” argument that a president has “blanket immunity from criminal prosecution” that extended “to any routine, lawful grand jury request for information about his conduct or that of his businesses or employees before he took office.”
“In other words, the plaintiff’s position is that none of this conduct, unrelated to the office of the President, can be investigated while the President remains in office,” Vance’s office wrote in the Sept. 23 memo.
U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Joshua Gardner filed the DOJ’s statement of interest.