This Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court was slated to hear arguments in cases in which the president’s team has been attempting to argue that Donald Trump should be exempt from subpoenas for his tax returns. The argument, basically, boils down to the idea that the president should be above the law, and liberal justices on the court including Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg attracted attention for their takedowns of the president’s legal counsel’s argument.
The subpoenas in question have been issued by Congressional committees and Manhattan-area District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Congress has been investigating the implementation of existing anti-corruption legislation, while Vance has, more specifically, been looking into illegal hush money payments that the president and his family business issued to women with whom Trump had affairs.
George Washington University Professor Randall Eliason reported on Twitter:
‘Justice Sotomayor honing in on two key points: these are personal papers from before Trump was president, not presidential records, and the subpoena is directed to a third party, not the president himself.’
Justice Sotomayor honing in on two key points: these are personal papers from before Trump was president, not presidential records, and the subpoena is directed to a third party, not the president himself.
— Randall Eliason (@RDEliason) May 12, 2020
Justice Sotomayor rightly observes that the tax returns at issue stem from Trump's time as a private citizen and pre-date the presidency. Basic and important point. #TrumpTaxReturns
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) May 12, 2020
At one point, she interjected to point out a fundamental flaw in the arguments from the president’s team, commenting:
‘Pardon me sir, these are not presidential papers, these are his personal tax returns, that’s a very different thing.’
Justice Sotomayor to Trump's laywer:
"Pardon me sir, these are not presidential papers, these are his personal tax returns, that's a VERY different thing."
— Andrea Bernstein (@AndreaWNYC) May 12, 2020
How can the president’s legal team be remotely trusted when they can’t even get the basic facts right and act as though the subpoenas are trying to procure presidential papers? There is no executive privilege for something like Trump’s tax returns, which have nothing to do with the implementation of Trump’s executive powers as president.
RBG takes no shit. She just eviscerated Donald Trump's counsel's argument that the subpoenas serve no legitimate legislative purpose.
— Publius (@ThePubliusUSA) May 12, 2020
Meanwhile, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg honed in on other broad issues. As she noted, the president’s team has quite dubiously honed in upon the idea that Congress is automatically on some kind of nefarious political quest if they’re seeking information about the president. However, Trump’s conspiracy theory that just about everybody is out to get him isn’t exactly a trustworthy legal argument that can stand the test of court.
Ginsburg pointed out, addressing the president’s lawyers:
‘You’re distrusting Congress more than a cop on a beat.’
And separately, she explained:
‘One must investigate before legislation! The purpose of investigation is to inform the legislation. You want to explore what is the problem, what legislative change can reduce or eliminate the problem.’
RBG notes that if the police stop a car that blows through a stop sign, courts can't probe the cop's true reason for the stop. So why should courts question Congress' mental state?
"You're distrusting Congress more than a cop on a beat."
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) May 12, 2020
In this case, the “problem” is the president’s corruption. No one has been able to look at the president’s potential decision-affecting financial conflicts of interest because, in a break with decades of precedent for presidents, he has refused to release his tax returns. Besides conflict of interest concerns that could stem from unreported financial ties to interests like foreign governments, Trump has also been accused of a slew of fraud, including bank, loan, and insurance fraud.
Despite the ample evidence against him, Trump has routinely insisted that investigations into his behavior are some kind of grand plots against him. Recently, he even suggested that those investigations constituted the “biggest political crime in American history, by far!” Talk about a persecution complex.
The biggest political crime in American history, by far! https://t.co/m5nPdUHt4u
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2020