Justice Department backs Trump in Supreme Court fight over his tax returns

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a listening session on youth vaping and the electronic cigarette epidemic inside the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Friday backed President Donald Trump in his fight at the Supreme Court to prevent his tax returns from being disclosed to a New York prosecutor.

The court filing by Solicitor General Noel Francisco comes a week after Trump filed an appeal in his individual capacity seeking to reverse a lower court ruling that directed his longtime accounting firm, Mazars LLP, to hand over eight years of his tax returns to Manhattan prosecutor Cyrus Vance.

Trump appealed a Nov. 4 ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said prosecutors can enforce a subpoena demanding his personal and corporate tax returns from 2011 to 2018 that would allow the material to be viewed by a grand jury.

Allowing Vance to obtain the tax returns would set a precedent that “may subject the president to highly burdensome demands for information” and “raises the risk that prosecutors could use subpoenas to harass the president as a result of opposition to his policies,” Francisco wrote in the brief.

The legal questions include whether the subpoena violates the part of the U.S. Constitution that lays out the power of the president.

Vance, a Democrat, is seeking the returns as part of a criminal investigation into Trump and the Trump Organization, the president’s family real estate business.

Trump’s lawyers have said he cannot be subjected to any criminal process while he remains president, a broad interpretation of presidential immunity.

If the justices decline to hear Trump’s appeal, the lower court ruling would stand, clearing the way for Vance to obtain the documents.

In a separate case in which the president has fought efforts by House Democrats to obtain his financial records from Mazars, Trump’s lawyers have filed an emergency application at the Supreme Court, which could act at any time.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien