(Getty/Saul Loeb)

A bad day for Trump is a good day for the country

Put this day at court in the bank and call it a win, though not a complete one



William Rivers Pitt
July 12, 2020 7:17AM (UTC)

This article originally appeared on Truthout.

If you were hoping to see Donald Trump's financial records before the 2020 election, today was not your day. If you were hoping to go to bed tonight in a nation with a president and not a sovereign, sleep tight, because you won.

In two Supreme Court decisions freighted with the potential for generational impact — Trump v. Vance and Trump v. Mazars — a 7-2 majority remanded both cases back to the lower courts for further review while delivering a slashing rebuke to a president who would put himself outside the scope of oversight and the constitutional separation of powers.

Advertisement:

Specifically in Vance, the court resoundingly affirmed that the president of the United States is not above the law. "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 for the majority. "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."

The Vance ruling concluded by returning the case to the lower courts, because after having settled the issue of absolute immunity, the majority held that Trump still has the right to redress the other proffered arguments. "The arguments presented here and in the Court of Appeals were limited to absolute immunity and heightened need," wrote Roberts. "The Court of Appeals, however, has directed that the case be returned to the District Court, where the President may raise further arguments as appropriate."

New York Attorney General Cyrus Vance Jr. stands a very strong chance of prevailing in the upcoming lower court arguments for his case. "This is 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," saidVance in a statement. "Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume, guided as always by the grand jury's solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead."

Advertisement:

The Mazars ruling was another disappointing decision for those seeking to make Trump's financial records public before the presidential election. Certainly, Democratic House members were hoping for a different outcome. That being said, the Mazars ruling was not a death blow to the efforts toward obtaining those documents — the Supreme Court justices punted it back to the lower courts because, they argued, the serious issues of separation of powers deserve more scrutiny before an ultimate ruling.

"Congressional subpoenas for information from the President, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers," reads the majority decision. "The courts below did not take adequate account of those concerns. The judgments of the Courts of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit and the Second Circuit are vacated, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

More importantly, however, the justices could have ruled that the president does not have to heed congressional subpoenas or endure congressional oversight. The court did not do so, and that terrible possibility did not come to pass. Between Vance and Mazars, the court was clear: The separation of powers stands, and Donald Trump is not a king.

Advertisement:

Attorney General Vance has been seeking financial documents from the Trump Organization to determine if that organization falsified business records to cover up hush money to two women whom Trump reportedly had affairs with. Congress wanted Trump's tax records because providing tax records is what presidents have done for decades, and House investigators want to know who may be pulling Trump's financial strings, perhaps in ways that damage national security.

Vance won, while Congress has suffered a setback but remains in the fight if it chooses to pursue it. As the tax documents will not be provided to House committees before the election per the Mazars ruling, it remains to be seen if they will maintain this effort absent its hoped-for political impact. House Speaker Pelosi certainly sounded like the issue is not settled. "We have a path that the Supreme Court has laid out that we will certainly not ignore," she said on Thursday, "and we will never stop our oversight."

Advertisement:

Trump allies fanned out saying this is a great day for the White House. You wouldn't know it from Trump's Twitter feed. The president, for lack of a better description, is volcanically pissed.

We have a totally corrupt previous Administration, including a President and Vice President who spied on my campaign, AND GOT CAUGHT…and nothing happens to them. This crime was taking place even before my election, everyone knows it, and yet all are frozen stiff with fear….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2020

Courts in the past have given "broad deference". BUT NOT ME!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2020

The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue. This is all a political prosecution. I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2020

Adding insult to injury, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — each Trump appointees he fought hard for — sided with Roberts and the majority in both cases. That has to burn.

This day could have been much worse for Trump, who has fought like a cornered wolverine for years to keep these tax documents secret. The massive review of Trump's older family financial records released by The New York Times in 2018 tell a fair portion of the utterly corrupt tale, but more recent data has remained beyond the public's reach, and remains so today.

Advertisement:

The fact that his records will in all likelihood fall into the hands of a New York grand jury is not welcome news for Trump. However, he avoided the fate of Richard Nixon, who lost unanimously before the high court in trying to keep the Watergate tapes secret, and was soon forced to resign.

Conversely, this day could have been utterly calamitous for the nation and its constitutional framework. Had the high court accepted Trump's broad claims of immunity in either Vance or Mazars, the office of the president would have been placed forever above the reach of law or oversight, and the republic itself would have crumbled before dinner.

Put this day at court in the bank and call it a win, though not a complete one. Still, anything that infuriates Trump like this has to be a good thing.

Advertisement:

Copyright © Truthout. Reprinted with permission.


William Rivers Pitt

MORE FROM William Rivers Pitt



Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •