The Supreme Court rebuked Donald Trump, the arrogant president. The Supreme Court has prepared a world of trouble for Donald Trump, the dirty businessman. But the Supreme Court has done a tremendous favor to Donald Trump, the candidate for reelection.
Trump’s legal arguments to protect his business records from subpoena were always miserably flimsy, when not actively crazy. On Trump’s behalf, the Department of Justice urged the Supreme Court to junk precedents dating back to the 1880s. Government lawyers proposed that the Court invent a fantastical new system of judicial oversight of subpoenas of the president. Those arguments were always bound to lose, and in a pair of decisions on Thursday, the Court rejected them.
But Trump’s legal strategy was cannier than his legal arguments. The strategy was to play for time, to push the day of reckoning beyond November 2020. That strategy has now paid off.
The Court has ruled that the district attorney in Manhattan can subpoena records from Trump’s bankers and accountants, but also enumerated the specific grounds on which Trump can challenge those subpoenas, and sent the case back down to the district court. If Trump chooses to contest those subpoenas, it is exceedingly unlikely that the litigation can be resolved before November. Even if it is, prosecutors might not be able to frame an indictment of Trump before November. And even if they do, it’s very plausible that a New York judge might agree to seal the indictment so as not to prejudice the election.