Trump Insists That It's Illegal To Investigate His Crimes, Figures That Everyone Will Just Go Along With It
According to Trump and his lawyers, he is above the law. Citing no cases that support his proposition, Trump has asked the US District Court for the Southern District of New York to declare that no one can investigate him.
The president's attorneys filed Trump v. Vance yesterday morning and requested that the court grant a temporary restraining order against Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance by noon. The subpoena in question was issued to Trump accountant Mazars back in August, but sure, let's wait until the last second and then demand that a federal court immediately do what we tell them to. Sounds normal.
Trump v. Vance
Whether a sitting president can be indicted is an open question. There's nothing in the Constitution that addresses it directly. And no court has ever considered the question -- likely because we've never before had a sitting president who so flagrantly and frequently violated the law. Even Nixon tried to keep his misdeeds secret and eventually resigned after they came out. Trump, on the other hand, enjoys violating the law in the open, in front of his FBI director, and on Twitter. Because this is the bad place.
Trump's lawyers use law review articles, memos, and even blogs -- which are not court decisions and are not legally binding on anyone -- to make audacious claims, such as "[t]he President thus cannot be subject to criminal process, for any conduct of any kind, while he is serving as President."
Though hey, if blogs are the same as case law, Yr Wonkette has a couple of pieces we'd like to submit...
And because this is Trump and his ridiculous lawyers that we're' talking about, they also whine about Dems being mean to him. An entire section of the complaint is dedicated to bitching about various people and entities who are trying to get his tax returns, starting off with this:
Throughout President Trump's time in office, government institutions, both federal and state, controlled by or aligned with the Democratic Party have attempted to use their power to obtain and expose his confidential financial information in order to harass him, intimidate him, and prevent his reelection.
Because GOD FORBID the American people are able to understand how their chief executive is compromised.
Vance's office has said their investigation is related to the literal crimes committed when he paid of Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. Of course, Trump's lawyers completely ignore the facts that Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to eight different felonies related to the transaction. And that the president, himself, is an unindicted co-conspirator.
Trump's complaint also says:
In recent months, the District Attorney of New York County has joined this campaign of harassing the President by obtaining and exposing his financial information.
Investigations into actual crimes count as harassment now?! Be right back, I have to call the 2.3 million people who are currently incarcerated in the United States.
Manhattan DA spokesman, Danny Frost, offered a tempered response to Trump's ridiculous assertions. "We have received the plaintiff's complaint and will respond as appropriate in court," said Frost. "We will have no further comment as this process unfolds in court."
After the parties met with Judge Marrero in chambers Thursday, they agreed that the Manhattan DA's office would respond by 5pm Monday, Trump would reply by 5pm Tuesday, and the parties would appear in court for a hearing at 9:30 am Wednesday.
So, can the president be indicted?
The only real answer to this question is that no one knows. Experts and scholars who have studied that issue in depth have come to different conclusions. Some, like Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar, believe sitting presidents are immune from prosecution until they have left office. Others, such as Hofstra Law Professor Eric Freedman and Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, argue that in the United States, no one is above the law.
But Trump actually wants the court to go much further than simply saying he can't be indicted -- he wants the court to say he can't even be criminally investigated. Even if they're right that a sitting president can't be indicted -- which is not at all clear -- arguing that he can't even be investigated is NUTS.
Despite Trump's claims to the contrary, there is no consensus among lawyers and legal scholars that a sitting president can't be indicted. But everyone, including Trump's lawyers, agree that the president can be indicted after leaving office. So even if Trump can't be indicted until he's finally out of the White House, prosecutors could begin their investigations before that. Criminal investigations could also lead to evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors and used by Congress for impeachment. Lawyers for the Department of Justice, including appointed special counsel like Robert Mueller, are prohibited by agency rules from indicting a sitting president -- but those rules do not apply to state and local prosecutors.
There is nothing in the Constitution or legal precedent that says a sitting president can't be investigated. Plus, most criminal investigations aren't matters of public record. Grand jury proceedings are secret. Sunshine laws have broad law enforcement exceptions. The only reason Trump even knows he's being investigated is that Vance's office requested records from him and his accountant.
Even legal experts who are sympathetic to the argument that a president can't be indicted by state prosecutors don't buy into Trump's arguments that he can't be investigated. As Frank Bowman III, (law professor at the University of Missouri and the author of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump") told the New York Times, "I think there is some force to the argument that states can't be allowed to hobble presidents with local prosecutions, but there is certainly no authority for the claim that they cannot at least investigate while a president is in office."
Trump REALLY doesn't want us to know what's in his tax returns
One of Trump's main priorities seems to be keeping his tax returns secret from the American people.
As noted by Courthouse News, "Trump's scorched earth legal strategy in avoiding scrutiny upon his tax returns made today's lawsuit widely anticipated." Trump is currently involved in a whole bunch of lawsuits, trying to block disclosure of his tax returns to various entities -- including the New York State Attorney General, the state of California, the House Ways and Means Committee, Mazars USA (Trump's accountants), and Deutsche Bank and Capital One (two of Trump's banks).
Legal experts have noted that Trump's legal strategies in these cases directly contradict each other. As Harry Sandick, a current defense attorney and former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York told Courthouse News,
One of the arguments that they're making in the federal cases is that, "These things are crimes. They can't be investigated by Congress." It's hard for them to make that argument in one place and then say, "Oh, we're not going to give them to the D.A.'s office, either." At some point it begins to look like, you know, hide-the-ball kind of gamesmanship."
Trump also argued in the Deutsche Bank litigation that a congressional subpoena should be quashed because Congress was attempting to undertake a law enforcement investigation, rather than further the legislative process.
The reason Trump is so paranoid about people seeing his tax returns is unclear, but it's definitely not good. Every major party presidential nominee since Nixon has voluntarily released their tax returns to the public -- except Trump. Trump has not only refused to release his returns, but has also waged war against anyone and everyone who tries to access them through legal processes. Whether it's loans co-signed by Russians, evidence of federal crimes, or something else entirely, it seems like there is something incredibly damning in Trump's taxes. And whatever it is in these returns that compromises the president, the American people have a right to know about it.
Trump wants federal courts to say no one can investigate him. That's not really a thing. But he has also hand-picked one quarter of the federal judiciary and two of the nine justices on the Supreme Court, so where this all eventually ends up is anyone's guess.
Also, his tax returns probably include excerpts from he pee tape or something, or else he wouldn't be spending all of his time trying to stop people from seeing them.
Oh, and be wary of putting too much faith in Cy Vance. He seems to be on the side of the angels in this one, but he has a history of refusing to prosecute powerful men and Trump's own family members. See, e.g., Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, and Ivanka and Trump Jr.