Attorneys for President Trump claimed in a lawsuit filed Thursday that he cannot be criminally investigated while on duty, as they sought to block a lawsuit from prosecutors in Manhattan demanding eight years of his tax returns.
With a broad stance that the lawyers did not acknowledge had been tested the president's legal team argued in the complaint that the Constitution effectively renders presidents immune from all criminal investigations until they leave the White House.
The president "cannot be subject to a criminal process of conduct of any kind while serving as president," the attorneys wrote in the complaint, filed in Manhattan federal court.
The lawsuit came in response to a lawsuit issued late last month by the Manhattan attorney's office to Trump's accounting firm. The lawsuit sought eight years of the president's personal and corporate tax returns as the office investigates the role that Trump and his family business played in domestic payments made at the end of the 2016 presidential elections.
, for money Cohen paid to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress who said she had a deal with Mr. Trump. The president has denied the deal.
Federal prosecutors said in a court filing in July that they had "effectively completed" their investigation of any crimes committed by the president's company, the Trump Organization or its executives. Neither the company nor any of its leaders was charged. However, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., is investigating whether the reimbursements violate New York State law.
The lawsuit filed on Thursday was the latest effort by the president and his legal team to stymie several attempts to obtain copies of his tax returns, which Trump initially said he would make public during the 2016 campaign but has since refused to disclose.
Mr. Trump's lawyers have been sued for blocking attempts by congressional Democrats and New York lawmakers to gain access to his tax returns and financial records. But their arguments in these cases had been made for narrower reasons.
It is an open question whether incumbent presidents are immune to prosecution while in office. The Constitution does not explicitly address the issue, and the Supreme Court has never answered the question.
Federal prosecutors are discouraged from accusing a sitting president of a federal crime, as the Justice Department – in memos written during Nixon and Clinton administrations – has interpreted the constitution to implicitly grant presidents temporary immunity while in office. These memos, however, do not bind the hands of state prosecutors.
Presidents have previously been the subject of federal criminal investigations, including Trump, who was recently the subject of an investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the Special Counsel who investigated the link between the Trump campaign and Russia .
Mr. Mueller said in May that the Justice Department's memo "explicitly allows" the investigation of the president, though he acknowledged that they cannot be charged with federal crime.
In their case, Trump's lawyers took their arguments a step further, claiming that no criminal investigation of a sitting president was constitutional. They took particular issue with every investigation conducted by "a county prosecutor," such as the Manhattan attorney.
Mr. Vance's office is seeking a series of tax documents from Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, including federal and state tax returns for both the president and the Trump organization, dating back to 2011.
In their trial, Trump's lawyers, who have repeatedly called Mr. Vance's investigation was politically motivated, writing that state and local prosecutors were particularly receptive to opening investigations to advance their careers at the expense of the federal government.
"A county attorney in New York for what appears to be the first time in our country's history is trying to do just that," the complaint said.
The complaint called prosecutors' effort to get Trump's personal registry "a bad faith effort to harass the president by getting and disclosing his confidential financial information." Vance from taking action against the lawsuit until after Trump left office.
"We are in court to protect the president's rights and the constitution," said Marc L. Mukasey, attorney for the Trump Organization.
A spokesman for Vance said the district attorney would respond in court and had no further comment. Mazars United States said it would "respect the judicial process and fully comply with its legal obligations."
Mr. Vance's investigation has focused on $ 130,000 that Mr. Cohen paid Daniels just before the election. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty last year to breaking t against federal campaign legislation. He received three years in prison.
Mr. Vance's office has investigated whether the Trump organization misrepresented the repayments as a legal expense. It was unclear if the scope of the lawsuit – including Trump's personal records – meant that the investigation had widened.
In New York, filing a false business can only be erroneous if prosecutors can prove that the application was made to commit or conceal another crime, such as tax violations or bank fraud. Trump's tax returns, about Mr. Vance's offices obtain them, would be protected by rules governing the privacy of the grand jury and not become public unless used as evidence in a criminal case.
Ben Protess, Charlie Savage and William K. Rashbaum contributed with the report.