By Robert A. Vella
The legal cases concerning access to Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns are numerous, but one profoundly stands above the rest – his argument before a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit asserting that as President of the United States he is completely immune from any criminal investigation or prosecution. His claim not only has no constitutional foundation whatsoever (being loosely based on arbitrary internal Department of Justice policy), it is totally antithetical to the rule of law established by America’s founding fathers. This is not the normal behavior of a president seeking to protect his political status or even to defend the standing of the chief executive (e.g. Richard Nixon). No, this is the abnormal behavior of a would-be dictator who sees himself as above the law and who is intent upon supplanting the existing democratic republic (e.g. Adolf Hitler).
Although the Second Circuit panel ruling is still pending, it will almost assuredly reject that argument. Then, Trump will appeal the case before the U.S. Supreme Court which has a 5-4 conservative majority including two associate justices appointed by himself. While many Americans are understandably fearful that SCOTUS would support Trump’s argument, leading legal scholars aren’t so cynical. They see it as an open and shut case. Here’s what I think might happen:
Chief Justice John Roberts, who has been determined to keep his court from being perceived as blatantly biased and partisan, is highly unlikely – in my opinion – to sanction a Trump dictatorship regardless of his personal feelings towards the president or towards the presidency. He knows full well how such a ruling would shock the nation and the world. Therefore, he has three alternative options: 1) vote with the four liberal justices against Trump, 2) refuse to hear the case and allow the Second Circuit’s ruling to stand, or 3) to construct a qualified decision which would reject the ‘blanket immunity’ claim but accept the privileged nature of Trump’s tax returns. That third option, however enticing to Roberts, would be legally problematic for the court because Trump’s lawyers have not made such an argument in this case.
Here’s a legal analysis of this case plus today’s news:
On Wednesday, during a hearing before the three-judge appeals court panel, Trump’s lawyers went a step further and said the president would theoretically be immune from investigation or prosecution even if he were to shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, alluding to comments he made during the 2016 election.
Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School who is an expert in constitutional and criminal law, told Insider that the case looked “destined” for the Supreme Court — and not because it’s a close call but rather because it’s the opposite.
“Chief Justice John Roberts looks for big cases around which he can build a consensus,” Ohlin said. “That’s exactly this case. I suspect that the vote at the Supreme Court would be 7-2, 8-1, or even 9-0 in favor of the state of New York.”
Ohlin added that Trump’s legal position was “untenable” and stood little chance of withstanding scrutiny.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Defense Department official who testified in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump did so in defiance of the Pentagon, which told her not to cooperate.
A letter to Laura Cooper’s attorney obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday cites an administration-wide policy against participating in the impeachment probe.
The directive underscores Trump administration efforts to discourage or prevent some executive branch employees from cooperating with House Democrats, who are investigating Trump’s prodding of his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden. The administration this month blocked Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, from testifying, though he ultimately did so under subpoena.
The White House’s trade representative in late August withdrew a recommendation to restore some of Ukraine’s trade privileges after John Bolton, then-national security adviser, warned him that President Trump probably would oppose any action that benefited the government in Kyiv, according to people briefed on the matter.
The warning to Robert E. Lighthizer came as Trump was withholding $391 million in military aid and security assistance from Ukraine. House Democrats have launched an impeachment inquiry into allegations that the president did so to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the business activities of former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter. As part of the inquiry, lawmakers are closely scrutinizing the White House’s actions between July and September.
The August exchange between Bolton and Lighthizer over the trade matter represents the first indication that the administration’s suspension of assistance to Ukraine extended beyond the congressionally authorized military aid and security assistance to other government programs. It is not clear whether Trump directed Bolton to intervene over Ukraine’s trade privileges or was even aware of the discussion.
KYIV — In the lengthy cast of Ukrainian prosecutors starring in the political scandal engulfing the Trump administration, Gyunduz Mamedov hasn’t received much of the spotlight.
Figures like Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko — both former prosecutors general of Ukraine — stand out for providing what Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for President Donald Trump, has described as “substantial evidence” to support his back-channel Ukraine campaign.
But Mamedov’s role was key. He was an intermediary in Giuliani’s efforts to press Ukraine to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and the debunked conspiracy theory about the country’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to documents reviewed and interviews conducted during a collaboration between BuzzFeed News, NBC News and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
WASHINGTON — For more than two years, President Trump has repeatedly attacked the Russia investigation, portraying it as a hoax and illegal even months after the special counsel closed it. Now, Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into how it all began.
Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges.
The opening of a criminal investigation is likely to raise alarms that Mr. Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies. Mr. Trump fired James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director under whose watch agents opened the Russia inquiry, and has long assailed other top former law enforcement and intelligence officials as partisans who sought to block his election.
Mr. Barr is closely managing the Durham investigation, even traveling to Italy to seek help from officials there to run down an unfounded conspiracy that is at the heart of conservatives’ attacks on the Russia investigation — that the Italian government helped set up the Trump campaign adviser who was told in 2016 that the Russians had damaging information that could hurt Clinton’s campaign.
But Italy’s intelligence services told Mr. Barr that they played no such role in the events leading to the Russia investigation, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy said in a news conference on Wednesday. Mr. Barr has also contacted government officials in Britain and Australia about their roles in the early stages of the Russia investigation.
A federal judge on Thursday held Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in contempt of court and imposed a $100,000 fine for violating an order to stop collecting on the student loans owed by students of a defunct for-profit college.
The exceedingly rare judicial rebuke of a Cabinet secretary came after the Trump administration was forced to admit to the court earlier this year that it erroneously collected on the loans of some 16,000 borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges despite being ordered to stop doing so.
DeVos is named in the lawsuit in her official capacity as secretary of Education. She will not be personally responsible for paying the $100,000 in monetary sanctions, which will be paid by the government.
Kim said she was leaving open the possibility that if DeVos and the Education Department continue to violate her order she would “impose additional sanctions, including the appointment of a Special Master to ensure compliance with the preliminary injunction.”
The United States’ sudden withdrawal from northern Syria has angered Kurds not only in this war-torn country, but in neighboring Iraq, where the ethnic minority has relied on Washington’s backing for decades, but may soon look elsewhere for support.
Faced with a fight between NATO ally Turkey and the Kurdish-led forces that backed the Pentagon against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), President Donald Trump chose to pull U.S. troops from the northern region. While Trump argued that the move was part of his long-sought goal of avoiding another open-ended conflict in Syria, he later announced he would maintain a military presence near the country’s eastern oil fields, much of which is located in regions with a traditional Arab majority.
Upset over the U.S.’ latest moves and uncertain about Trump’s long-term commitments in the Middle East, Kurdish officials emulated to Newsweek that Iraqi Kurds may look to shore up ties with a new partner—Iran, a sentiment they were not alone in sharing.
Russian spy Maria Butina, 30, will be released from jail on Friday and escorted by two ICE agents back to Moscow after serving 16 months of her 18-month sentence as her life behind bars of five-mile runs and working at the prison cafeteria is revealed