“The President asserts an extraordinary claim [that] the person who serves as President, while in office, enjoys absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind,” Marrero wrote. “This Court cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process as being countenanced by the nation’s constitutional plan.”
Accepting Trump’s arguments, Marrero wrote, would mean that not only the president but his relatives and business associates “are in fact above the law.”
David A. Graham: Trump is now in open defiance of Congress
The judge’s opinion is likely to be appealed and might be stayed, but his indignant dismissal points to the flaw in the Trump legal argument. The president has repeatedly expressed a yearning for the powers of an autocrat, and has successfully subordinated the power of the executive branch to pursuing his will—from chasing conspiracy theories around the globe to the Justice Department intervening in this case on the president’s side. But there are leaks in the hull: federal judges who don’t answer to Trump, whistle-blowers and inspectors general who sidestep his power, and state and local authorities who aren’t bound by federal law.
Since taking control of the House in January 2019, Democrats have fired off a fusillade of subpoenas at Trump and his associates. To fight these off, Trump’s attorneys have advanced aggressive legal theories. They’ve instructed current and former aides not to testify, citing executive privilege. The White House has even claimed that Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump-campaign aide who’s never worked for the executive branch, is subject to privilege.
Trump’s lawyers have also questioned Congress’s authority. When House committees have sought financial documents, including tax returns—which the House can obtain under federal law—from Trump’s accounting firm and banks, the Justice Department has argued there is not “legitimate legislative purpose” for requesting them; it’s just harassment. Attempting to foil this, Democrats argued that the requests were kinda-sorta part of an impeachment inquiry: They didn’t want to admit they were trying to impeach Trump, but they also wanted to demonstrate a clear constitutional purpose behind their requests.
House Democrats: Why we’re moving forward with impeachment
Litigation in those requests is still in process, though the question of impeachment has now been resolved, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s green light for an impeachment inquiry in September. Now that Democrats are working under that umbrella, Trump has attacked the inquiry, saying it amounts to a coup and that voters should decide his fate. Following Trump’s logic, Congress can’t pursue oversight if it’s not impeaching, and can’t pursue oversight if it is.
Meanwhile, with the White House stonewalling Congress, state governments have begun acting. California passed a law requiring candidates for president to disclose tax returns (the law has been challenged), and New York passed a law allowing Congress access to candidates’ New York State returns if requested. Meanwhile, Vance subpoenaed Trump’s tax returns from his accounting firm in connection with hush-money payments to the porn actress Stormy Daniels.