Trump’s attorneys argued House subpoenas were “unprecedented in every way” and asked for “temporary presidential immunity” from a New York attorney’s subpoena for Trump’s tax files .
“We are asking for temporary presidential immunity,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said in court, defending himself against a New York subpoena for the president’s tax records.
When a House lawyer argued in favor of subpoenas issued by three committees, several Conservative judges considered whether the efforts of the Democrat-led house amounted to harassment from Trump.
Chief Justice John Roberts, for his part, asked counsel about the limits of Congress’ powers and suggested that the House should take into account that the summons involved not an ordinary litigant but the president.
Roberts said the House did not seem to “take into account that we are talking about a coordinated branch of government, the executive branch”. He suggested that the House argued that his power was “unlimited”.
Thomas was concerned about efforts to weaken a president with a spate of subpoenaes not only from Congress but also from grand juries.
“We could be manageable. But 100 might be impossible,” Thomas told Douglas House, General Counsel for the House.
“This is the problem here: must something be done” to “prevent harassment of the president,” said judge Samuel Alito.
“Weight of 10 tonnes”
Liberal judges, meanwhile, pounced on Trump’s lawyers, suggesting that the court has long since confirmed the power of Congress to investigate.
“How do you distinguish all these cases,” she asked, adding that before Congress can legislate, it must investigate.
Judge Elena Kagan stressed that “this is not the first conflict between Congress and the president,” she said. In previous conflicts, the White House and Congress were able to reach an agreement. Obviously that didn’t happen here, she said to Trump’s lawyer Patrick Strawbridge.
“And it seems to me that you are asking us … to do is put some sort of 10-ton weight on the scale between the President and Congress and essentially make it impossible for Congress to exercise control and perform his duties with respect to the President, “said Mr. Kagan.
Roberts began by asking if the House had the power to assign personal files, perhaps in order to find common ground. “It seems that, in the end, this is just another case where the courts balance the competing interests of each side, is this the wrong way to look at it?”
“The president is not above the law”
In the New York Grand Jury subpoena case, several of the judges appeared unresponsive to Trump’s broad claims for immunity, sometimes pointing to court precedent regarding Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton on whom s supported the lower courts which ruled against Atout.
Roberts asked a lawyer for Trump that in Clinton v. Jones, the court had authorized a private citizen to bring a civil action against a sitting president.
“You focus on the distraction to the president” in this case, Roberts said to a lawyer for Trump, but he said in the Clinton case, “we were not convinced that the distraction in this case meant that the discovery could not continue. “
Justice Neil Gorsuch also pointed out that in the Clinton case, the court authorized the prosecution of a sitting president, but in this case, all that was wanted was third party records.
Sotomayor stressed that the New York district attorney, Cyrus Vance, was not targeting the official acts of the president.
“You are asking for wider immunity than anyone,” she told Sekulow.
And when he pointed out that the president is different from an ordinary litigant, Kagan responded by saying, “The president is not above the law.”
Trump has sought for years to protect his tax returns and other documents, while his critics have launched various investigations into hidden money payments and potential financial disclosure violations as well as ethical rules.
The cases are in the midst of a successful period where judges are already adjudicating cases concerning DACA, LGBT rights and abortion. The court is also considering the Department of Justice’s emergency request to find out whether the Chamber can have access to the grand jury documents from the Mueller inquiry and the redacted parts of the Mueller report.
The arguments were due to be heard in late March but were delayed due to the pandemic. Decisions are expected this summer.
House Democrats assignment of accounting firms
The first two cases, argued simultaneously, pit the President’s personal lawyers against the House Democrats, who say they need the records of Trump’s long-standing accounting firm and two banks to investigate a variety of matters ranging from alleged payments in hidden money, illegal foreign participation in an American campaign and potential violations of money laundering and ethics rules.
Trump’s attorneys have sued to block the summons, arguing that although they are directed at third parties – Mazars USA, Deutsche Bank and Capital One – they implicate the president and his family members and constitute an expedition illegal fishing. Democrats say they need the documents, regardless of whether the President’s dismissal trial earlier this year ended in acquittal.
The letter argued in court documents that there is “nothing unprecedented” in congressional subpoenas for documents and that Supreme Court jurisprudence has “long recognized” that Congress can investigate on potential wrongdoing as long as it is linked to a valid legislative objective.
He referred to the Financial Services Committee’s investigation into the use of banks in the United States to carry out international money laundering and unsafe lending practices. The intelligence committee is examining the targeted risks posed by foreign interference in the U.S. political process and has searched for documents to determine whether foreign actors had financial leverage over Trump. And he said the oversight committee is examining presidential financial disclosures and conflicts of interest.
“Not only could legislation be passed on these matters, but the commissions presented or reported on several bills related to their investigations and exercised significant control over the agencies involved,” said Mr. Letter.
Strawbridge told judges in the records that the summons were part of an effort by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the Democrats took over the power of the House to “investigate all aspects of the public and private life of the president “.
“These assignments are all expansive, heavy and untargeted fishing expeditions,” he said.
The Justice Department sides on Trump’s side, arguing that subpoenas pose a “serious risk of harassing the president and distracting him from his constitutional obligations”.
Senior Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall submitted that when a subpoena seeking information from the President must meet a higher standard. The two chambers of the Chamber must authorize the summons in question and the information sought must be “manifestly critical” to a “legitimate legislative objective”.
“Because the committees here have not made these projections, the summonses to appear violate the Constitution,” he said.
The Department of Justice has suggested a waiver to the judges, saying that they could avoid having to rule on the investigative powers of Congress against the president, by simply quashing the subpoena. they were not authorized by the entire House. “A plenary vote guarantees proper deliberation and is part of the checks and balances system,” said Francisco.
A brief filed by former senior officials of the Department of Justice has argued that the power of Congress is “not absolute” and that the president can invoke executive privilege if he wishes. They also highlighted a precedent. During the administration of President Bill Clinton, the Senate heard testimony as part of a whitewater investigation by the Clinton family’s personal accountant. In 1980, a Senate committee was investigating whether President Jimmy Carter had played a role in his brother Billy Carter’s contacts with commercial enterprises in Libya. The committee investigated the president’s real estate and obtained the tax and bank records from Bill Carter.
New York seeks Trump tax returns
Vance has served a subpoena to Trump’s long-standing accounting firm Mazars USA for his tax returns as part of an investigation into hidden money payments to two women with whom the president is said to have extramarital affairs, according to the testimony of Michael Cohen. (Trump denied the business.)
Trump’s personal attorneys and the Justice Department want the judges to quash the lower courts that ruled that the subpoena could go ahead.
“We have no opportunity today to decide on the precise contours and limits of the president’s immunity from prosecution,” wrote judge Robert A. Katzmann for the 2nd US Court of Appeal. “We only conclude that presidential immunity does not preclude the application of a subpoena before a grand state jury” against the accounting firm Trump.
Katzmann made sure however to note that “the last six presidents, going back to President Carter, have all voluntarily returned their tax returns to the public”. The Court built on previous cases, including a case from 1974, United States v. Nixon, where the Supreme Court confirmed a subpoena to President Richard Nixon to produce certain magnetic tapes essential to the Watergate investigation.
“The President has not convincingly explained why, if executive privilege did not prevent the execution of the subpoena issued to Nixon, Mazars’ subpoena must be ordered despite the search for no inside information and no relation to the exercise by the president of his official functions “, writes Katzmann. .
The Justice Department supports Trump here, but does not take his sweeping views on presidential immunity. Instead, Solicitor General Noel Francisco focused on the fact that the district attorney cannot harass the president and divert his time and energy. Francisco argued that a prosecutor must show that the evidence is “directly relevant” to the issues that should be central to the trial and that the prosecutor must identify “specific indictments that cannot be made responsibly without access to documents “.
This story has been updated with details of the oral arguments.
CNately’s Katelyn Polantz and Cat Gloria contributed to this report.