The Manhattan district attorney’s office on Thursday accused President Trump of trying to run out the clock on its investigation of him and his family business, saying the president was seeking “as much delay as possible” to avoid turning over his tax returns as part of the inquiry.
The district attorney’s office issued a subpoena to Mr. Trump’s accounting firm in August seeking eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns as it investigates hush-money payments the president and his company made to the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels.
In a sharply worded letter filed in Manhattan federal court, the office said that a federal lawsuit the president brought last month challenging the subpoena could drag out the case until the statute of limitations expired on any possible crimes.
“The only goal in this litigation,” prosecutors with the district attorney’s office wrote, “is to obtain as much delay as possible, through litigation, stays and appeals.”
A lawyer for Mr. Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Trump’s lawsuit argued that the Constitution bars any investigation of a sitting president, especially by a local prosecutor. The argument has never been tested in court and could set a sweeping new precedent if the president is successful.
Lawyers for the president also have called the investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., politically motivated. Mr. Vance is a Democrat.
Mr. Vance’s office was responding to a letter filed on Wednesday by the Justice Department supporting a request from Mr. Trump, a Republican, that the judge in the case temporarily block the subpoena. Lawyers for the Justice Department, which is led by Attorney General William P. Barr, said the president had raised “significant constitutional issues” that should first be carefully considered by the court.
The Justice Department did not offer an opinion about the merits of Mr. Trump’s argument.
But the letter from Mr. Vance’s office indicated that the state prosecutors interpreted the Justice Department’s involvement as support for the president’s “extravagant claim that, given his current position, he and all of his prior business associates and related companies are immune, not just from prosecution, but from any routine grand jury inquiry into transactions undertaken before he was a government employee.”
It is an open question whether sitting presidents are immune from prosecution while in office. Federal prosecutors are barred from charging a sitting president with a crime because the Justice Department has decided that presidents have temporary immunity while they are in office.
But that position does not preclude an investigation. Presidents, including Mr. Trump, have been the subjects of federal criminal investigations while in office. The Justice Department’s position also does not apply to local prosecutors like the Manhattan district attorney.
Mr. Vance’s office has been examining whether any New York State laws were broken when Mr. Trump and his company reimbursed Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer, for payments he made to Ms. Daniels just before the 2016 election. Ms. Daniels claimed she had an affair with the president, which he has denied.
The letter from Mr. Vance’s office said the Justice Department’s position was “audacious” because Manhattan federal prosecutors had investigated the same reimbursements.
Federal prosecutors disclosed in July that they had “effectively concluded” their investigation, which had led Mr. Cohen to plead guilty to federal campaign finance violations. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
The district attorney’s subpoena, served on Mr. Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, seeks his personal and corporate tax returns dating to 2011. The president and his lawyers have vigorously fought efforts by congressional Democrats and state legislatures to force him to disclose his tax returns.
Mr. Vance’s office argued that delaying enforcement of the subpoena would likely mean that the statute of limitations would expire on some of the actions that a grand jury is examining. The letter did not disclose any additional details about the inquiry.