- The Supreme Court of the United States ruled Thursday that President Donald Trump cannot block criminal prosecutors from attempting to subpoena him.
- The 7-2 ruling, where Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh sided with the majority, decided that a sitting president does not have “absolute immunity” from criminal investigations.
- The case in question involves a probe into Trump’s alleged hush money payments to two women who claimed to have had sex with him.
- Still, the decision at hand only broadly refers to Trump’s inability to block subpoenas. As the Court noted, he can still issue legal challenges to specific subpoenas, which he will likely do.
SCOTUS Rules on Trump Tax Records
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a substantial blow to President Donald Trump Thursday in a 7-2 decision that now prevents him from blocking subpoenas targeted at him.
The ruling concerns two cases, both with different outcomes and both seeking to obtain Trump’s financial and business records. The first involves a subpoena for a grand jury into a criminal investigation by Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr. The second involves an array of subpoenas filed by three different committees in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Thursday’s majority decision, which Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh joined, states that while Trump cannot avoid being subpoenaed as part of a criminal investigation solely because of his status as president, he can still challenge the specifics of the current subpoenas against him.
The ruling handed down from SCOTUS is also one of the most anticipated and detailed rulings on presidential privilege in decades.
“Two hundred years ago, a great jurist of our Court established that no citizen, not even the President, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
“We reaffirm that principle today and hold that the President is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need,” Roberts added.
While the Court sided with Vance and his investigation, it did not make a ruling on the case involving those House subpoenas. Instead, justices said neither side presented a compelling case as to how to balance congressional subpoenas with the separation of powers. Thus, they sent the case back to lower courts for review.
“The House’s approach would leave essentially no limits on the congressional power to subpoena the President’s personal records,” Roberts wrote. “A limitless subpoena power could transform the established practice of the political branches and allow Congress to aggrandize itself at the President’s expense.”
Essentially, SCOTUS did not prohibit Congress from having the power to subpoena a sitting president, but it did say that the specific way in which the House issued its subpoenas in this case could lead to a power vacuum.
SCOTUS began hearing oral arguments for both cases in May. With each, justices expressed concern about the potential for presidents to face harassment from subpoenas; however, they were also skeptical of Trump’s defense that, while president, he has “absolute immunity” from being subpoenaed or from being the subject of any criminal investigation.
Takeaway: A Mixed Bag
While Thursday’s decision can definitely be seen as a loss for Trump, it is not a definitive win for either side. For example, those hoping to personally see Trump’s tax returns will likely also find themselves out of luck.
To be clear, within the context of SCOTUS’ ruling, that information would only be for a single grand jury’s eyes. Since grand juries operate confidentially, documents like that rarely ever leak.
It’s unknown when exactly those documents would have to be handed over to that grand jury, especially because as SCOTUS noted, Trump can still fight their release by raising defences other than “absolute immunity.” Such a move—which is all but certain to happen—will likely tie up those documents in legal limbo until well after the general elections.
Like the case with the House, that then means Vance’s case is also set to return to courts. This time, however, Trump’s lawyers will be unable to argue “absolute immunity” and will have to resort to arguments used for any client.
Because those specific cases can be reargued, even if Trump is still likely to lose against them, he’s been given valuable time to keep their contents a secret until after voters head to the polls.
Trump Jeers, Democrats and Even White House Cheer
Just minutes after SCOTUS’ decision went public, social media erupted into a frenzy. Supreme Court, #TrumpTaxes, #TrumpTaxReturns, SCOTUS, and Kavanaugh were all top trending topics on Twitter Thursday morning.
“PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” Trump tweeted shortly after the announcement.
“POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” he followed up in another tweet he has repeated many times over.
“Courts in the past have given “broad deference,” he added in another tweet. “BUT NOT ME!”
“…the Supreme Court gives a delay ruling that they would never have given for another President. This is about PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT.”
However, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany has spun SCOTUS’ decision as a “win” for Trump, particularly because he’s able to re-challenge both cases.
On the other side, Vance called the ruling “a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one — not even a president — is above the law.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement, saying, “No matter how much he wishes it to be true, President Trump is not king.”
In a devastating blow to President Trump and his enablers in the Republican party, the Supreme Court today upheld a fundamental tenet of our democracy that no one is above the law,” Schumer said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also responded to the House case being sent back to the lower courts, saying that Thursday’s ruling “is not good news for President Trump.” Pelosi added that Congress will continue to press its case in lower courts and provide further information to those courts.
Deutsche Bank, one of the banks holding some of Trump’s financial records, said it will abide by the U.S. legal process and the final decision of the courts.
Why Are Trump’s Tax Records Being Sought?
Vance is seeking 10 years of documents as part of an criminal investigation into potential state tax law violations by Trump prior to his presidency.
Notably, that investigation includes looking into hush money paid to Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film star Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, during Trump’s campaign run. Vance is specifically investigating whether that hush money violated New York state law if it were filed as false business records.
The House’s case involves two different subpoenas. Those subpoenas include a sweeping array of Trump’s personal and business records also prior to his time in the White House, including: bank statements, engagement letters, personal checks, loan applications, and tax returns.
The committees have justified these subpoenas by arguing that the information in them is critical to drafting federal ethics and anti-corruption laws involving presidents. In fact, one major concern is whether Trump has business dealings with Russia, which could be a major conflict of interest.
It’s important to note that Trump himself was never personally subpoenaed. Both Vance and the House committees actually sent those subpoenas to Trump’s personal accounting firm, as well as 3 financial institutions used by him and his business.
Nonetheless, Trump filed lawsuits against both sets of subpoenas in an attempt to block those institutions from having to comply. In both cases, Trump lost in every single level of federal court all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Notably, he’s also the only president in modern history to not publicly release his tax returns or divest from major business interests while in office.
See what others are saying: (ABC News) (The LA Times) (Axios)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”