Trump asks the Supreme Court to save him from a criminal investigation

Trump asks the Supreme Court to save him from a criminal investigation
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to block Manhattan prosecutor Cy Vance from obtaining his tax records via a grand jury subpoena as part of a criminal investigation.

This appeal is the president's last chance to avoid handing over the materials after the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the legitimacy of the subpoena. If the Supreme Court declines to take the case, Trump will be obligated to hand over his financial records and tax returns, which have been the subject of much speculation and controversy since he failed to release them during the 2016 campaign, despite his promise to do so.

But Trump's lawyers argued that, as president, he should be immune from this requirement as part of a criminal investigation.

"For the first time in our nation’s history, a state or local prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation of the President of the United States and subjected him to coercive criminal process," the filing said. "The subpoena issued by the New York County District Attorney seeks reams of President Trump’s private financial records for the express purpose of deciding whether to indict him for state crimes."

The lawyers argue that the Constitution protects the president in this case. But as the filing note, this question has never arisen before and thus has never been definitively adjudicated.

Citing the famous case of Clinton v. Jones, the filing argued that the court has previously recognized the importance of questions related to presidential immunity. And yet, that very case ended in the ruling that President Bill Clinton was not immune from civil litigation brought by Paula Jones for sexual harassment.

This case deals with a separate, but clearly related, question of immunity from state-level criminal investigations. The lawyers claimed that they're not looking for immunity specifically for Trump but for "the Presidency itself." They warned that, if a criminal investigation is allowed against presidents, it "would empower thousands of state and local prosecutors to embroil the President in criminal proceedings." The Constitution, they claim, must not allow this.

While there are genuinely open constitutional questions at play here, it's hard to take arguments from the president's side seriously at all. Because while Trump's side is claiming he can't be criminally investigated, his lawyers have also resisted proper requests from the House of Representatives to review his taxes — a power Congress has under clearly written law. And Special Counsel Robert Mueller argued that he couldn't conclude the president committed a crime because of current Justice Department policy, saying only Congress could address these questions through impeachment. But as impeachment proceedings have begun in Congress, Trump and his lawyers called the process "illegitimate" and worked to obstruct the lawmakers' work.

So no matter the question put before him, the Trump team always seems to have the same answer: No one is permitted to hold him to account.

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