Trump lawyer argues the president could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and avoid consequences in office

Trump lawyer argues the president could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and avoid consequences in office
President Donald J. Trump, escorted by U.S. Air Force Col. Rebecca J. Sonkiss, boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, en route to Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Lawyers for President Donald Trump Wednesday argued in a Manhattan courtroom that were the president to shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York City, he could not be prosecuted while in office because of presidential immunity.


"Trump's lawyers openly declared that Trump is above all laws, including murder," tweeted Rep. Bill Pascrale (D-N.J.) in response to the news.

The exchange came during a hearing on the president's tax returns, which Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. is attempting to obtain to see if Trump illegally paid to silence people with damaging information to his presidential campaign in 2016. Judge Denny Chin used Trump shooting someone in broad daylight on 5th Avenue—an invocation of a Trump brag on the campaign trail in 2016—as an example of the limits of presidential immunity from prosecution.

But Trump lawyer William S. Consovoy told the court that, in fact, the president would escape prosecution as long as he were in office.

Chin: What’s your view on the Fifth Avenue example? Local authorities couldn't investigate? They couldn't do anything about it?

Consovoy: Once the president is removed from office, any local authority, this is not a permanent immunity.

Chin: Well I'm talking about while in office.

Consovoy: No.

Chin: Nothing could be done? That's your position?

Consovoy: That is correct.

The D.A.'s office was not amused, according to The Washington Post:

Carey Dunne, general counsel from the Manhattan District Attorney's office, told the court "there is no such thing as presidential immunity for tax returns" and "they're making this up."
"[President Trump] may view them as embarrassing or sensitive but tax returns do in fact get subpoenaed all the time in financial investigations," Dunne said.

Legally, Vox's Ian Millhiser pointed out, Consovoy's assertion is incorrect:

To be clear, Consovoy is not correct about the law. As the Supreme Court explained in Clinton v. Jones (1997), "it is settled law that the separation-of-powers doctrine does not bar every exercise of jurisdiction over the President of the United States. Moreover, the Court added that "we have never suggested that the President, or any other official, has an immunity that extends beyond the scope of any action taken in an official capacity."Thus, because murdering people on Fifth Avenue is not part of the president's official duties, Trump's immunity argument would likely fail. Similarly, because the financial information sought by prosecutors also does not relate to Trump’s official duties, Trump's claim of immunity in Vance is weak.

A number of observers expressed concern that the president believes he is above the law, whatever the legal reality.

"This is not a joke," said journalist Judd Legum. "This is real life."

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.