- 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)
House To Send Impeachment Article Monday, Starting Impeachment Trial Process
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of the impeachment trial process.
- The news comes one day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.
- The senators could still come to their own agreement to delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs.
- Some Democrats have signaled support for this move because it would give them extra time to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominations before the trial starts.
Pelosi To Send Impeachment Article
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday.
The move will officially trigger the start of the impeachment trial process. The announcement comes one day after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.
Despite Pelosi’s decision, the senators still could come to their own agreement to start the ceremonial proceedings but delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs.
In fact, Democrats, who have been pushing for a schedule that would allow them to still confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees before the trial proceedings start each day, have signaled that they might not oppose a delay because it would give them extra time for confirmations.
During his announcement this morning, Schumer indicated that the details were still being hashed out.
“I’ve been speaking to the Republican leader about the timing and duration of the trial,” he said. “But make no mistake a trial will be held in the United States Senate and there will be a vote on whether to convict the president.”
McConnell, for his part, responded by reiterating that his party will continue to press for Trump’s team to be given enough time.
“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” he said. “Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense.”
While the leaders may not have worked out the particulars yet, according to reports, both parties have already agreed that this trial will be shorter than Trump’s first impeachment, which lasted three weeks.
Implications for Power-Sharing Deal
The new impeachment trial deadline could also speed up the currently stalled negotiations between Schumer and McConnell regarding how power will be shared in a Senate with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.
Democrats effectively control the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris will be the deciding vote, but she cannot always be there to resolve every dispute.
As a result, McConnell and Schumer have been working to come up with a power-sharing deal for day to day operations, similar to one that was struck in 2001 the last time the Senate was split 50-50. However, those negotiations have hit a roadblock: the legislative filibuster.
The filibuster is the long-standing Senate rule that requires a supermajority of at least 60 senators to vote to end debate on a given piece of legislation before moving to a full floor vote. Technically, all 50 Democrats and Vice President Harris could agree to change the rule to just require a simple majority to legislation advance, or what’s known as the “nuclear option.”
That move, in effect, would allow them to get through controversial legislation without any bipartisan support, as long as every Democrat stays within party lines. Many more progressive Democrats have pushed for this move, arguing that the filibuster stands in the way of many of their and Biden’s top priorities.
Given this possibility, McConnell has demanded that Democrats agree to protect the filibuster and promise not to pursue the nuclear option as part of the power-sharing deal.
But top Democrats have rejected that demand, with many arguing that having the threat of filibuster is necessary to get Republicans to compromise.
In other words: if Republicans fear that Democrats will “go nuclear,” they will be more likely to agree to certain bills and measures to avoid that.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Politico) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Signs 17 Executive Order During His First Day in Office. Here’s What You Need to Know
- In the first hours of his presidency, Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders and proclamations, many of which focused on rolling back Trump administration policies regarding immigration, the environment, and protections for minority groups.
- Biden also implemented several measures to tackle the coronavirus, including requiring masks to be worn on federal property and by federal employees. He is also expected to announce a new national strategy aimed at restructuring the federal response to the pandemic.
- On Thursday, Biden will also invoke the Defense Production Act, which would speed up the development and distribution of vaccine-related equipment.
Biden Rolls Back Trump Policies
President Joe Biden signed 17 executive actions and proclamations Wednesday afternoon. Many of his first acts in office are focused on rolling back several policies implemented by former President Donald Trump that Biden’s aides said have caused the “greatest damage” to the country.
“I thought there’s no time to wait, get to work immediately,” Biden told reporters present during the signed of several of the orders.
Here is a breakdown of some of the key measures Biden implemented.
Biden immediately ended all construction on the border wall by overhauling the national emergency declaration Trump had enacted to divert billions in federal funds to his central campaign promise.
The new president also expanded protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and overturned a Trump policy that made immigration enforcement more strict and
In similar actions, he also ended the travel ban on multiple Muslim-majority countries and revoked a Trump administration order that would have excluded non-citizens from the 2020 Census count.
One of the most significant actions Biden took was signing a letter to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. It will take 30 days for the return to go into effect.
The president also issued a sweeping order that reversed a number of the Trump administration’s environmental policies, including revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, re-establishing a working group to look into the social costs of greenhouse gasses, and temporarily banning oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Justice for Minority Groups
In one far-reaching order, Biden directed all federal agencies to review equity in their programs and policies. They are required to issue a report within 200 days that, among other things, details how each will remove barriers to opportunities and ensure all Americans have equal access to federal resources.
Biden also ended Trump’s policy that limited federal agencies, contractors, and other organizations from holding diversity and inclusion training. The same order also disbanded the 1776 Commission created by Trump to study his claims that the education system was too liberal in its teaching of American history.
In a separate order, the president issued changes that will broaden federal protections against sex discrimination to include LGBTQ+ Americans, reversing a previous action by Trump.
As part of a broad measure aimed at general accountability in the executive branch, Biden issued an order that will establish ethics rules for all people in his administration. The same order will also require all executive branch appointees to sign an ethics pledge.
Separately, the president additionally froze all new regulations Trump had put in place during his last few weeks in office until they can be further evaluated.
Economy and Coronavirus
Chief among Biden’s first acts in office were his plans for the coronavirus pandemic and the damage it has caused to the American people.
In terms of financial relief, Biden extended the ban on evictions and foreclosures and paused student loan payments until September.
As for direct actions concerning the pandemic, the president imposed a mask mandate for all federal employees and anyone on federal property. He also signed an extensive order aimed at restructuring the federal response to the pandemic.
Biden is expected to enact more policies in regards to the coronavirus in the coming days, including taking more executive actions to ramp up testing and vaccine distribution, safely reopening schools and businesses, and provide more money to states to help carry out those efforts, among other things.
To achieve these goals, he will also invoke the Defense Production Act, which will compel American companies to manufacture supplies for the pandemic response such as PPE and other items needed for vaccines.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (ABC News) (The Washington Post)
U.S. To Join WHO-led Vaccine Distribution Plan as Biden Implements a Flurry of COVID-19 Executive Orders
- Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated Thursday that President Joe Biden will join COVAX, a World Health Organization-led COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.
- Fauci’s announcement comes one day after Biden signed an executive order reversing former President Donald Trump’s plan to remove the United States from the WHO.
- Among other orders, Biden plans to implement a mask mandate for airports, planes, trains, and other forms of interstate travel. He has already ordered masks to be worn on all federal property.
- Biden is also expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday, which would speed up the development and distribution of vaccine-related equipment.
U.S. To Join COVAX
Just one day after President Joe Biden signed an order to keep the United States in the World Health Organization, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country will join its global COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.
That plan, COVAX, is a collaborative effort between 92 countries to ensure that COVID vaccines aren’t only distributed in wealthy countries.
The idea behind the plan is that establishing a global herd immunity will be much more effective at curbing the spread of the virus than just establishing herd immunity in countries that can afford to buy large quantities of the vaccine, especially when international travel picks back up.
The plan is not without its shortcomings. Earlier this week, the WHO stated that some countries participating in COVAX have been disregarding the plan and buying large quantities of vaccines for themselves.
Nonetheless, in a video conference call Thursday morning with the WHO’s executive board, Fauci — now chief medical advisor to the president — said the Biden administration believes it can inoculate every American while also helping people in other countries.
Biden’s plan to join COVAX is a stark contrast from the Trump administration, which refused to participate in the program.
Fauci said Biden will issue the directive to join COVAX later Thursday.
Additionally, Fauci noted that the U.S. once again “intends to fulfill its financial obligations” to the WHO.
In his attempt to leave the organization, Trump cut off payments from the U.S.; however, his administration never got the chance to fully cut ties with the organization because the U.S. wasn’t scheduled to officially leave until July of this year.
Biden Signs Mask Mandate, Other Orders To Come
Among other COVID-related executive orders signed Wednesday, Biden implemented a national mask mandate for people on federal property.
Sometime Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign another order requiring masks to be worn in airports, as well as on airplanes, trains, and other interstate transit systems.
Also on Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign an order that will establish a COVID-19 testing board. Once implemented, the board will be responsible for increasing testing rates, addressing supply shortfalls, and determining the rules and regulations for international travelers coming into the U.S. It will also have the power to distribute resources to minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus.
On top of that, Biden plans to sign an order that will direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states and Native American tribes for their emergency response efforts. Notably, those reimbursements include costs related to reopening schools.
Finally, Biden is expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday. Such a move would speed up the production of masks and other equipment needed to help administer vaccines.