Justice Department Argues for Presidential Immunity, Says Media and Impeachment Can Hold Trump Accountable

Siding with President Donald Trump in his quest to prevent New York prosecutors from obtaining his tax return, the Justice Department filed a new brief with the Supreme Court on Monday arguing in favor of presidential immunity. The department defended the broad notion of immunity from cumbersome judicial proceedings by noting that the president can be held accountable in other ways, such as through impeachment, scrutiny from the press, and his desire to maintain a positive reputation.

After noting the broad scope of immunity the Justice Department has previously determined applies to the president on questions of arrest and indictment, the filing observes "a wide range of 'alternative remedies and deterrents' to presidential wrongdoing" that fall outside strict judicial action.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is seeking Trump's personal tax returns by way of the president's accounting firm, Mazars USA, as part of a state criminal investigation into potential violations of New York record-keeping laws.

Trump had previously requested that a federal judge block the enforcement of the subpoena. An appeals court in November upheld the trial court's decision in Vance's favor. The Supreme Court subsequently agreed to hear the case.

While the Justice Department singled out several extrajudicial methods of accountability that may constrain the president from committing potentially unlawful acts, Trump has notably tried to discredit several of them during the course of his presidency.

For example, Scrutiny from the news media is often dismissed by the president as "fake news," affording the White House an opportunity to avoid bad press without having to engage on the merits. Veteran CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl corroborated this understanding of the president's relationship with the press in an interview in May 2018.

"I said, 'You know that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You're doing it over and over, and it's boring,'" Stahl recounted telling Trump months before the 2016 election. "He said, 'You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.'"

The White House did not respond to requests for comment at the time from multiple news agencies about Stahl's remarks.

The president and his attorneys have also tried to minimize impeachment as a form of accountability, at least as it concerns the efforts by the Democrat-led House of Representatives to impeach Trump over his dealings with Ukraine.

Though he has alternately tried to walk back his remarks and lambasted reporters for misinterpreting them, Alan Dershowitz, the president's impeachment counsel, argued that Trump cannot be impeached when he "does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest."

Trump himself has claimed that the House's impeachment proceedings, provided for in the U.S. Constitution, are unconstitutional and "should not even be allowed to proceed."

Donald Trump
WARREN, MI - JANUARY 30: President Donald Trump speaks during a visit to Dana Incorporated, an auto-manufacturing supplier, on January 30, 2020 in Warren, Michigan. During his speech Trump touted good job numbers and the strong performance of car companies in the state. Brittany Greeson/Getty Images/Getty