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Supreme Court Rules On New York Prosecutor's Request For Trump Financial Docs; Supreme Court Blocks Congress From Getting Trump's Financial Records For Now. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired July 9, 2020 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Will deliver its ruling on the president's tax returns and his financial records.
The big question, will this president and his broad claim of immunity hold up in the highest court in the land.
The decisions that are about to come down will also very likely reshape the balance of power between presidents and lawmakers for generations to come, and, again, make a sweeping statement on how broad presidential powers really are, all of this, of course, on an election year. We'll bring you the rules as they are handed down.
Let's begin though with my friend and colleague, our Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Good morning, Jeff. Again, as I say, no one I'd rather have by my side on a day like this. Let's walk through the cases one by one.
So let's begin with the Vance case and the case about the president's tax returns. What's at stake here?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is a straightforward criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, and after all, Trump Tower and the Trump businesses were headquartered in Manhattan. And this is an investigation of it's unclear precisely what because it's not appropriate to release the details of an investigation, but it is an investigation of the president's finances and his business.
And the district attorney in Manhattan, Cyrus Vance, has subpoenaed the accounting firm that handled the president's personal tax returns, his business records to get his hands on those records. The president's lawyers have argued this is harassment, that a president of the United States does not have to respond to a subpoena like this.
TOOBIN: The president has lost in the lower courts, and the question now is what will the Supreme Court do.
HARLOW: So there is that. And, by the way, if the -- if they did prevail and Cy Vance was able to get these, they would go to a grand jury and there are major secrecy rules there. So I don't want people think that they would get to see everything.
TOOBIN: That's a very important point. The Vance case is not about immediate public disclosure of any of these records and perhaps never public disclosure of those records.
So let's talk about the other case, and that is Mazar's, and this is the House, the Democratically-led House brought against the president asking for any financial documents, from him, from his family, et cetera, three different congressional committees from, interesting, a third party, not the president directly but the banks and the accounting firm.
TOOBIN: Correct. And the records at issue are very similar, tax returns, financial records, but the constitutional issues are different because this is not a criminal investigation. This is a congressional investigation. And, traditionally, Congress has had wide latitude to investigate a president's personal finances.
People may remember that Congress did a lot of investigating of the Whitewater matter, which related to personal investments of Bill and Hillary Clinton. But the president has argued that this is harassment, that he is immune from this kind of investigation and the Congress has no right to these documents. That is a case that really will have broad implications about the balance of power between the House and the executive branch for a long time. And, again, the president has lost in the lower court on that case and we'll see what the Supreme Court does here.
HARLOW: We will. Stand by, Jeffrey Toobin. Let me go to the high court. Our Jessica Schneider is outside. We're still waiting, but they are expected to come down very soon, Jess, right?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They are, Poppy. So with this new court system and the pandemic, there's actually no one inside the court so they are releasing this all electronically.
We got opinions unrelated at 10:00 A.M. and the next opinions will be released online at 10:10. That could be either of these two cases, whether it's the House committee's case or the Manhattan district attorney case.
So it could be interesting to see how the justices come down here, because it did appear in both of these cases at oral argument in mid- May over the telephone, it seemed like perhaps the justices were maybe trying to find some middle ground here. They were a bit skeptical, especially of the conservative justices when it came to the House committee's broad request for all of these financial documents from several different financial institutions. It did not notably include any tax returns.
But the justices really harped on this issue of where does legislative purpose end, where does presidential harassment begin? So it's possible that they could shut down the request or maybe they could weigh the burdens and the needs in this House request. Now, when it comes to the case out of New York City and the request from the Manhattan district attorney, the justices seemed a little more apt to allow this subpoena to go forward in this criminal investigation for the grand jury.
You know, in fact, even the conservative justice, Neil Gorsuch, he really said, hey, look, the Supreme Court has let these types of requests and these subpoenas go forward before, notably in U.S. V. Nixon, as well as Bill Clinton.
So why would President Trump be any different especially because these are personal financial documents coming from a third party
So we'll see how the justices break this down in just a few minutes.
HARLOW: That's a very good point, Jessica, coming from, again, a Trump appointee at the court, Neil Gorsuch.
Jeffrey Toobin, just on that point, I mean, there is important history here with two other presidents, as Jessica just brought up, at least in the New York prosecutor's case, and that is, again, you know, Nixon, U.S. V. Nixon, and then the case that led to the impeachment of President Clinton, Clinton V. Jones.
TOOBIN: Right. And the House of Representatives and the New York City D.A., their arguments are very similar, which is no one is above the law, that the Supreme Court has held that the president while -- has certain rights as the leader of the executive branch, and he is not an ordinary citizen. However, he is not above the law.
And, you know, when it came to the subpoena of the White House tapes in 1974, Richard Nixon had to produce the tapes. In 1998, when Bill Clinton was subpoenaed to give a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, the Supreme Court said unanimously.
And both of those cases were unanimous, that Bill Clinton did have to give that deposition and Congress ultimately said, the House of Representatives said Bill Clinton lied in that deposition which led to his impeachment. So that was a high stakes loss for Bill Clinton.
But the principle in both those cases unanimously supported by the Supreme Court was that the president of the United States has to abide by the legal rules that applied to every other citizen, and that is at the heart of both of these arguments and we'll see if the Supreme Court reacts with similar unanimity in 2020.
HARLOW: That's a great point, I mean, the fact that both of those decisions were unanimous.
Okay. Jeffrey, hold on for just one minute. Kaitlan Collins joins us at the White House with more. And, Kaitlan, good morning to you.
When we heard the president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, asked the court to give this president broad immunity, here are his words, we are asking for temporary presidential immunity.
The question really on both cases is, is the president going to continue to enjoy the secrecy he has and the extent to which he's fought to keep all of these documents and his tax returns private?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And so they've argued he is immune from any kind of criminal prosecution, anything like that. They say House Democrats do not have legitimate oversight purposes for why they want to get these financial documents from the president.
But, of course, you know, if they make these decisions, these cases, they are asking for the financial documents from the banks, from the accountants, not from President Trump himself. Because, of course, if that was the case and they did rule that they had to hand them over, that could result in some other kind of potential crisis if the president refused to.
So, of course, they are sitting back, they are waiting to see what happens. And we should note -- but it's interesting how the president is going to view the Supreme Court in this, because he has been railing against them lately, especially after those decisions with DACA, going after the justices, saying that that's the reason he needs to be re-elected in 2020, is so they can have more conservative justices. So, of course, two of the ones who are going to be making these decisions are two of the ones that he has appointed to the courts, of course.
And so the question really is how is the president going to respond to this as well depending on what they rule, and his attorneys say they are waiting. They say they don't want to speculate and they are waiting to see what it is that they decide.
HARLOW: And, Jeffrey Toobin, to Kaitlan's point about how the president will respond, I mean, he'll respond how he responds, but key issue here is because these are requests for the president's financial documents to third parties, they are the ones that will have to turn them over. Not -- it's not up to the president.
TOOBIN: And they have said they will comply --
HARLOW: -- if the Supreme Court orders them to turn over documents. So he can rail all he wants, but if he loses, he's going to lose.
Now, if I can complicate matters a little bit, it is possible that the president could lose but the court send the case back to the lower courts where there would be more proceedings, which might run out the clock until the election.
So there are ways that the president --
HARLOW: It looks like we lost our Jeffrey Toobin. Hopefully, we'll get him back very quickly.
Let me go to Ross Garber as well, who is an expert on all of this. Ross, good to have you. Can you hear me?
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I can. Can you hear me?
HARLOW: I can. Good to see you, sir.
Could you pick up on where Douglas left off, because I do think that's important? There could essentially be a punt or an off ramp for the court.
GARBER: Yes. So it's one thing to look for here because, right now, there are no standards. And what the president -- one of the things the president's lawyers argued is if the president is not above the law, he's actually subject to the law in different ways. And so what the Supreme Court should do is set a new standard that the -- that Congress or the New York D.A. would have to meet in order to get these records.
And as Jeffrey said what would happen then is the case would go back to the lower courts to have the lower courts apply the standard and then it could sort of move its way back up the court system again.
HARLOW: Okay. Ross, thank you. We're waiting again for these decisions to come down in these two cases about the president's financial documents and his tax returns.
Jeffrey Toobin, you're back with me here. Can you explain what this means, particularly as it pertains to the chief justice? What I think has been so fascinating about the decisions that have been handed down this term is the critical decisions in which the chief justice has sided with the liberals on the court.
I will say we just got the opinion, the majority opinion, the decision for the New York prosecutor's case. That is the case about the president's tax returns. We're going over it. We'll bring you that as soon as we have it.
But, Jeffrey, on the chief justice?
TOOBIN: Well, this has been a remarkable and remarkably surprising year for the chief justice. On the case, on three major cases, the striking down of the president's attempt to throw the DREAMERs out of the country, on the employment discrimination against LGBT people and the abortion rights case out of Louisiana, Chief Justice Roberts voted with the liberals giving them a majority in all those cases.
Big surprise, and now moments from now we will hear how he votes -- how he voted on another big case, pair of cases, about access to the president's financial records.
HARLOW: Okay. So we're just going through this opinion, Jeffrey Toobin, and let me know if you need to take a moment.
TOOBIN: Yes, I want to take a moment and not get it wrong.
HARLOW: okay. So we're going to let Jeffrey read the court's decision on this case about the president's tax returns.
Let's bring in Shimon Prokupecz, who knows a whole lot about this. This is about the D.A., Shimon. This is about in New York City in a criminal investigation, and remind people where this came from, Shimon. I mean, how this all originated, because that's fascinating as well as we'll see what the court ruled on whether tax returns have to be released for a grand jury to look at.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. This all, of course, started with the payments to Stormy Daniels that Michael Cohen was part of, that he pleaded guilty to in federal court.
And so what the Manhattan D.A.'s office did is they went back. After Michael Cohen pleaded guilty and was serving time and the FBI and the DOJ was done with the case, they then started looking on their own to see if there was any kind of state violations, much different, of course, than the federal violations.
And so what they did was they wanted to -- they subpoenaed records. We know about the taxes, but there are other records as well that they have already received. But specifically on the taxes, they had subpoenaed all the way back to 2011. It was about an eight-year period that they want to see tax documents. So it's the tax returns and other documents related to those tax documents.
And the whole point of this is, is they want to see if, in any way, in any of the business records did the Trump organization, did the president and anyone else around the president lie basically in these business records? Did they misstate something? Did they try to say that the payments that were made to Stormy Daniels, did they try to say they were legal expenses, when, in fact, they weren't?
So that's where all of this stems from. This has been going on for almost a year, if not, over a year, that the D.A.'s office here in Manhattan has been looking at this.
Also important to note that Michael Cohen has been, of course, the president's former personal attorney and fixer, has been cooperating in that investigation. He's been meeting with the D.A.'s office. They met with him when he was in prison here in Upstate New York, so they have information from him. They could be looking at other information.
Other people have cooperated in the investigation. National Enquirer was subpoenaed. So there's a whole other part of this entire investigation, that while it is focused on some hush money payments, there may be other things.
The other thing important to note here is that the Trump organization itself is also, it would appear, is also under investigation in this, and that is what the Manhattan D.A.'s Office has been looking at.
HARLOW: It's important to know what the prosecutors here in New York, the D.A.'s office, is asking for is something that every modern president has released, right, that this president is unique, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, in shielding and guarding this information so closely. [10:15:14]
COLLINS: Yes. And that's why these decisions are so critical because Trump, unlike, really, any other politician, presidential candidate that we've seen in modern history has fought so hard to prevent this information from becoming public.
And we should also note for viewers that he sent personal attorneys to go and argue against both of these. That's Jay Sekulow, other attorneys outside the White House that the president has arguing this. Though, of course, the Justice Department said it agreed that the standard had not risen to the level they believe for the information to be revealed.
But he sent his personal attorneys to go and make these arguments because, for so long, he has pushed back against revealing his financial information. And he promised to, once initially, as a candidate, I think, in recent months, he said that he would release some kind of document before the 2020 election but those promises made by the president and those statement never materialized.
So this will be really critical when this information goes -- come out, how it comes out, what the result of all of this is, because he has fought so hard to prevent it.
So, I mean, you can guess what the president's reaction is going to be because he has unloaded on these justices before for decisions that are about his administration, all of this, but this is personal for him. So it just takes up and really ups the ante so much more than what we've seen for these other decisions.
HARLOW: It really does. Look, we have the decision in the Vance case about the president's tax returns. We're reading through it, and we will bring it to our viewers as soon as we go through it.
Let's go to Abby Phillip. I believe we have Abby Phillip. Abby, are you with us? Abby, good morning.
Let's talk about the politics of this because I'd be remised not to say this is an election year. I mean, this is months before an election, and this is about financial documents and knowing things about someone running to be re-elected to be commander in chief that he has worked so hard to keep private.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And to Kaitlan's point, it is personal for the president. This is unlike a lot of other things that he has sought to push back on in terms of oversight. His financial records are about his businesses, his personal finance --
HARLOW: Abby, stand by.
HARLOW: Let me go to Jessica Schneider at the high court. Jessica, what is the ruling? SCHNEIDER: Well, Poppy, the Supreme Court sort of taking the middle ground here. This is the case involving the subpoenas out of New York City from the D.A. there. The Supreme Court is saying that the president is not absolutely immune from these criminal subpoenas. However, the president does have some recourse to fight the subpoena.
The chief justice in this case writing this opinion. This is a 7-2 opinion. It's actually joined -- the judgment is joined by Justices Kavanaugh as well as Justice Gorsuch here. Let me read you what the chief justice wrote that sort of sums it all up.
He said, we reaffirmed the principle today and hold that the president is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need. So by that sentence, it seems that the subpoena could go forward.
However, the Supreme Court is sending this back down to the lower courts, sending this to the district court for further consideration. Because, as noted in this opinion, they said that while the president is not absolutely immune, a president, not just President Trump, but any president does have some recourse here. They can bring up issues. They can fight this.
So these tax returns will not be released to the grand jury, at least right now. They have to go back to the court to fight it out at the district court but saying it could happen in the future.
HARLOW: And, Jessica, how long does that take?
SCHNEIDER: Well, that's the thing, Poppy. You know, the president has been fighting for months, I think going on for more than a year now throughout this entire thing.
And I think one thing is for certain. We will not see any decision in this case likely before the election less than four months away. These things take a lot of time, briefing schedules, argument schedules back at the district court in New York City.
So it's fair to say that Vance, the prosecutor in New York, likely won't see it before the election and the public certainly will not see it before the election because they likely wouldn't have any way, since this is for grand jury proceedings, which are kept in secret, Poppy.
HARLOW: Very significant. Jessica, we'll let you keep reading. We'll get back to you in a moment.
Let's go to Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey?
TOOBIN: All nine justices reject the position put forth by the president's lawyers in this case. All nine justices say that the president does not have absolute immunity from a subpoena. And all nine agree that the case has to go back district court.
This is a legal defeat for the president, but it may be a practical victory.
The idea that the president can't be subpoenaed is completely rejected by the Supreme Court, and that even the two dissenting justice agree on. All nine also agree that the case should go back to the district court.
The practical victory for the president is that the legal proceedings will continue. It seems unlikely given this opinion that the president will ultimately be able to stop the disclosure of these events to the grand jury in Manhattan, but it's going to take time.
I mean, this process will begin again. The district court will get briefings. They may hear evidence. That will be appealed to the second circuit court of appeals, and then losing party will likely go back to the Supreme Court. All of this will take a while.
HARLOW: Can you explain why? Because to get to the Supreme Court, you go through lower courts, so why is it -- why is it going back?
TOOBIN: Because the president -- the opinion says, Chief Justice Roberts' opinion, says that like any other defendant, he can go in the district court and say, this is harassment, it is overbroad. They can't make the same arguments that they made in this case, but there are arguments that any defendant can make to try to stop a subpoena.
They usually don't work, but they are arguments that are raised in court, and, you know, federal courts don't work overnight. these -- you know, it will be several weeks of briefing on both sides. It will take time for a district court judge to issue an opinion in this case. That decision will then certainly be appealed to the court of appeals. That will have to be briefed.
And here we are in the middle of July, the election is in November, it seems to be very up likely that the actual documents will be turned over to the grand jury before November. And as we're pointing out all morning, there is no requirement or even permission for public disclosure of these documents at any point.
HARLOW: Okay. We'll get back to you on justices that joined in the majority, because that's fascinating too.
And just a minute, Jeffrey, but let me get to Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Kaitlan, the any reaction from the president?
COLLINS: We're still waiting to hear from him, from the White House press secretary, but the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin did have what appears to be an ill-timed interview, where he was on another network and he was asked about this decision that just came down. He said he couldn't comment on it, he said, as he understood it, it didn't involve the treasury, which it doesn't.
But he goes, I would say the only thing I do agree on is that when things go to Congress, they tend to get leaked, and when things go to grand juries they don't. That has played such an important factor in what Jessica and Jeffrey were saying, that if this House Democrats case gets ruled on, there's a chance you could see those financial records a lot sooner than if they go, of course, to Vance.
And what happens with the grand jury and the chance that maybe he doesn't even get them before the election. So that's really important to keep in mind is whether or not the public is actually going to see these financial records from the president.
But, Poppy, one thing to look for in the president's reaction to this ruling is how does he feel about the two justices that he appointed to the court ruling for this favor.
COLLINS: Because you know how he views the court and how he views it as his people, the ones that he appointed and that's why he's made this argument, I need to be reelected so I can put more of my people on the court. And that's even how some critics of Kavanaugh and Gorsuch saw them as Trump people, Trump justices, and making this -- Yes.
HARLOW: It's a great point. I was just going to -- sorry to step on you, Kaitlan. I think it's a really great point. And you have the chief justice writing, as Jeffrey mentioned, in the majority opinion here. We reaffirm the principle today and hold that the president is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking in his private papers, nor entitled to a heightened standard of need.
And if I could bring in our historian here, Douglas Brinkley, on this. We knew this may be coming from president's appointees to the court, Kavanaugh and Gorsuch. Because I think Gorsuch really tipped his hat in oral arguments when he brought up the case of Clinton, former President Clinton V. Jones and said, how do we, as a court, how does the high court here avoid the conclusion that the president, in that case, Clinton, wasn't subject to some special immunity but here is -- they are -- they sought the deposition of a president while he was serving here, they are seeking records from third parties.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: That's right. I mean, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said what's good for the goose is good for the gander in talking about the Clinton V. Jones case.
This is, in my mind, a very big victory for Cyrus Vance Jr. in New York. I mean, they went all out to get the president's financial records and his accounting ledgers.
And, lo and behold, eventually, they are going to get them.
Really, what we're talking about is time, and does this hurt politically Donald Trump right now? Yes, it hurts, because he now has to live in a kind of paranoid world that somewhere down the line and maybe after November, but when he's a private citizen or in his second term, that this could break open on him and break open big.
Lord only knows what Donald Trump's tax record and financial papers are going to show because he had his fingers in so many strange businesses and, you know, we've always been wondering about things like Trump University and how could that have even existed.
And so I think this is a nightmare for Donald Trump but a containable one --
HARLOW: Douglas Brinkley, so sorry to interrupt. Hold that thought. We do want to get back to our Jessica Schneider, who is at the Supreme Court.
And, Jessica, I believe we're going back to you. Do we have the decision in the second case, the House case, for the president's financial documents?
SCHNEIDER: We do have that decision, Poppy. It was just released. And just like in the case involving the district attorney out of New York, for now, these financial records will also remain blocked, the ones that three different committees led by Democrats are seeking in the House of Representatives.
The court taking a similar approach here as they did in this other case out of New York City, and the vote breakdown, the exact same as well, 7-2, and the conservative justices joining with the liberals except for Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, they are dissenting.
And pretty much the reasoning is the same, very similar here in this House case, basically saying that the court below in deciding that these documents should be handed over to these congressional committees, that the courts, as the court put it, did not take adequate account of the significant separation of powers concerns implicated by these congressional subpoenas for President Trump's information. So once again saying that, you know, maybe this request could go forward but not right now, and it's something that needs to be further considered at the lower courts.
I mean, you know, there was an interesting part in this opinion, Poppy, that said, you know, the way the House has approached this in asking for this wide array of documents, which even Justice Kagan expressed some concern about at oral arguments saying that maybe this was just too broad of a request.
It said that the House approach would leave no limits on the congressional power to subpoena the president's personal records. So that being a real concern for the court here and saying, let's go back down to the lower courts and re-examine this issue as to whether this request could potentially be overbroad and if there should be some limits on congressional power to subpoena in this case. Poppy?
HARLOW: Jessica, do you know the breakdown of justices and who may have joined the majority here in this case? Do we know that?
SCHNEIDER: Yes. It's the exact same as we saw in the case out of New York City, the district attorney there. This is a 7-2 decision. Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh agreeing with the judgment in this case but for a little bit of different reasoning, they issued a concurring opinion.
So it's quite notable that, you know, most of these justices are saying, okay, there may be the power here to get these records in the New York district attorney case. They are saying that the president is not absolutely immune, something that the president's attorneys argued steadfastly for. And then in this case in the House saying that, sure, congressional committees may need this information but the way it was done was just too overbroad and it essentially was limitless. And we need to rein this in a little bit perhaps, and that's something that is the role of a district court as opposed to the Supreme Court that finds issues on the basis of law rather than the facts.
So, you know, in a way, the Supreme Court sort of punting this decision for another day and certainly probably after the election year, Poppy.
HARLOW: And it will be much more than just a day, right? Jessica, I'll let you get back to reading and come back with us in just a moment.
Jeffrey Toobin is here with me. Ross Garber is also here with me.
So, Jeffrey, let me go to you here, because we heard Clarence Thomas, who rarely speaks hearing these arguments. But in this case during oral arguments back in Many, he said, at some point, there is a straw that breaks the camel's back. All of these requests to a president could be too much, could be presidential harassment. And now we see how the court has decided.
TOOBIN: That's right. And one argument that the president's lawyers made in both cases was that the president has absolute immunity. The president does not have to answer a subpoena from Congress or from grand jury ever. And that argument was rejected completely in both cases.
However, particularly in the congressional case, the opinion by Chief Justice Roberts joined by seven justices, which is unusual.