WASHINGTON — President Trump got so mad at the Supreme Court on Thursday morning you could almost hear his Twitter-thumbs mashing his phone in a rage.
And for good reason: The high court just unleashed a prosecutor Trump can’t control.
The justices ruled that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance does have the power to aggressively investigate Trump as a state prosecutor — and obliterated Trump’s defense that such a probe would violate the Constitution.
The decision means things could get downright messy for Trump. Vance has been vigorously probing the inner workings of Trump’s family business, and now he’s won the Supreme Court’s official backing to proceed. And with questions still swirling about why Trump has fought so hard to keep his financial records secret, there’s little telling where such a probe will lead.
“Today’s decision unshackles Vance and gives the Manhattan DA a green light to investigate Trump,” Jens David Ohlin, vice dean of Cornell Law School, told VICE News. “This a major blow to Trump’s vision of a monarchical presidency.”
“This a major blow to Trump’s vision of a monarchical presidency.”
The hotly-awaited ruling follows months of legal wrangling that tied up Vance’s investigation into Trump’s financial affairs for months. Trump filed suit to stop his financial advisors from handing over his tax returns and other documents in response to a subpoena from Vance, arguing that any sitting president is absolutely immune from any criminal investigation.
Trump’s lawyers argued the president could literally shoot someone on a New York City street, and still be absolutely criminally invincible so long as he remained in office — especially from a mere state prosecutor like Vance.
Trump did score a short-term victory: The court stopped short of ordering Trump’s accountants to immediately fork over the documents to Vance, and also waylaid another set of subpoenas from Congressional Democrats seeking many of the same files. The justices sent both cases back to the lower courts for further arguments that could easily stretch out beyond the 2020 election.
But in allowing Vance to proceed, they also left Trump with a big, long-term problem: a newly-empowered state prosecutor who doesn’t work for Trump’s close ally, Attorney General Bill Barr, who runs the federal Department of Justice.
Barr’s DOJ has been widely accused of warping the criminal justice system to Trump’s advantage, to both protect Trump’s friends and target his enemies — and Vance has shown no such deference.
“On the balance, this is a pretty bad day for Trump.”
“On the balance, this is a pretty bad day for Trump,” said Duncan Levin, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan DA’s office. “This is going to kickstart what was a dormant investigation.”
Vance’s current probe is rooted in a criminal case over sex and money.
Vance subpoenaed Trump’s records in connection with an investigation into hush-money payouts before the 2016 election to women who claimed they slept with Trump, payments that already sent Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to prison.
But the investigation also includes “issues beyond those involved in the Cohen matter,” Vance’s lawyers told the Supreme Court in May. He hasn’t specified exactly what that might mean — but that can hardly be good news for Trump or his family business.
Trump appeared little mollified by the idea that the Supreme Court gave him a temporary delay through the election, tweeting out furiously that it’s “not fair” to force him to “keep fighting.”
The evidence Vance is seeking appears to be important, given the prosecutor’s willingness to fight all the way up to the Supreme Court, Levin said.
“It’s a pretty small sliver of good news for him that he might be able to shield his taxes until November, but the news on the whole is pretty grim for Trump,” Levin said. “Today shows that president Trump cannot shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”
In a brief statement after the ruling, Vance hailed the decision and vowed to push forward.
“Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume,” Vance said. “This is a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one — not even a president — is above the law.”
Multiple observers said they expect Vance will eventually be able to convince the courts to allow him to pry loose Trump’s financial secrets, now that the Supreme Court has shot down Trump’s attempt to declare them totally off-limits.
“The standard for a prosecutor is very broad, so I expect it to be able to basically go forward,” said Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York.
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in an event with students, teachers and administrators about how to safely re-open schools during the novel coronavirus pandemic in the East Room at the White House July 07, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)