Trump loses a key court battle but wins a round in tax return fight

The House of Representatives will not get President Donald Trump's financial records for now, the Supreme Court said.

Posted: Nov 26, 2019 1:30 AM
Updated: Nov 26, 2019 1:30 AM

A federal judge ruled Monday that former White House counsel Don McGahn is not immune to a House subpoena, knocking down White House claims that current and former staffers have "absolute immunity."

That could have important implications for ex-officials, like former national security adviser John Bolton, who have so far not testified in the impeachment inquiry but have valuable information. The Department of Justice is already planning to appeal, according to a spokeswoman.

'Presidents are not kings'

This will certainly land at the Supreme Court, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson appears to have written her opinion with that in mind. She makes clear how she thinks those justices should decide, with some very pointed language that should resonate with the originalists in the crowd.

This passage stands out:

Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings. See The Federalist No. 51 (James Madison); The Federalist No. 69 (Alexander Hamilton); 1 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 115--18 (Harvey C. Mansfield & Delba Winthrop eds. & trans., Univ. of Chicago Press 2000) (1835). This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Moreover, as citizens of the United States, current and former senior-level presidential aides have constitutional rights, including the right to free speech, and they retain these rights even after they have transitioned back into private life.

Trump wins one in fight over his tax returns

The Supreme Court late Monday blocked House Democratic efforts to see Trump's taxes -- a win for the President, who's been knocked back by multiple appeals courts.

CNN's Ariane de Vogue reports:

In a brief order, the court granted the President's emergency request to block a subpoena from House Democrats to his long-time accounting firm from moving forward. There were no noted dissents.

The justices set up an expedited briefing schedule to hear arguments from both sides on whether the court should agree to hear Trump's appeal this term. The President must file his opening brief on or before December 5.

Meanwhile, federal investigators appear to be zeroing in on Giuliani's business

Federal prosecutors investigating associates of Rudy Giuliani have launched a broad review that could include criminal charges ranging from conspiracy and obstruction of justice to campaign finance violations and money laundering, according to a subpoena sent to at least one witness and seen by CNN.

The grand jury subpoena describes the range of charges that are being considered and appears to signal that prosecutors are also looking at the associates' relationship with President Donald Trump's personal lawyer and specifically at Giuliani's business. The Wall Street Journal first reported the subpoena.

CNN previously reported that Giuliani's financial dealings with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were under scrutiny by investigators. Parnas and Fruman, since arrested for allegedly violating campaign finance law, previously helped Giuliani push Ukraine conspiracy theories. Giuliani has previously told CNN he has "no knowledge of any of that crap" in the complaint.

Trump still has confidence in Giuliani despite jokes -- Trump voiced support for Giuliani at the White House on Monday during an event with the Bulgarian Prime Minister.

"Rudy is a great crime fighter, corruption fighter," Trump said. "Probably the best in 50 years. When he was here, and also when he was at the US attorney in Southern District, he was phenomenal. Rudy is a great person. And I think that maybe the press isn't treating Rudy very well, and I think that's unfair. But Rudy was a great mayor and a great crime fighter."

Those kind words come despite Giuliani's comment on Fox News on Sunday that he's got insurance if he's betrayed by Trump.

"You can assume that I talk with him early and often and have a very, very good relationship with him, and all these comments — which are totally insulting — I mean, I've seen things written like he's going to throw me under the bus," Giuliani said. "When they say that, I say, 'He isn't, but I have insurance.' "

Just kidding?

Giuliani later tweeted that he was just kidding.

But man, oh, man, don't forget that Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, recorded Trump talking about payoffs to women who alleged affairs. So the idea of an insurance policy might not be foreign to Trump.

In other news

Speaking of those payoffs Cohen facilitated, read this report about the head of the National Enquirer talking to federal prosecutors: "David Pecker, the head of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, has spoken with prosecutors with the New York district attorney's office as part of its investigation into the Trump Organization's handling of hush money payments to women who alleged affairs with President Donald Trump, sources with knowledge of the meeting tell CNN."

Democrats say they've heard enough

Democrats, hoping to move forward with impeachment so they can get on to other things, are not going to slow anything down, even as new leads continue to pour out.

"I think the evidence is already overwhelming," Rep. Ro Khanna of California said Monday on CNN. "There's nothing that we are going to present that's going to convince some of these Republicans in the House. But if we can get even more evidence, we will do that. But many of my colleagues believe that the evidence is already overwhelming and enough to vote for impeachment."

How many articles of impeachment will there be?

As Democrats begin writing articles of impeachment -- which is what will ultimately be voted on -- House Intelligence Committee Chairman and lead impeachment inquisitor Adam Schiff sent a letter to fellow lawmakers that included a very interesting line suggesting that the White House decision not to cooperate with the inquiry will be used against Trump.

'Forced to infer ... '

Schiff said the impeachment investigators will assume the worst based on the White House's contempt for subpoenas.

"We will be forced to infer from this obstruction that the testimony of these witnesses would tend to incriminate the President further since he would have encouraged—rather than blocked—the testimony of senior officials like Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former National Security Adviser Ambassador John Bolton, if he believed it would somehow be helpful to him. The fact that the President has uniformly instructed all executive branch agencies and senior officials to obstruct the investigation further demonstrates consciousness of guilt on the part of the President."

More about Democrats' progress toward articles of impeachment

A lot of work for a holiday week

Schiff predicted an impeachment report will be completed shortly after this week's Thanksgiving holiday.

The core question now

There's a very real debate in the party over how broad the articles of impeachment should be. As CNN's Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report, some Democrats envision pages and pages of distinct articles, including for conduct outlined in the Mueller report as well as obstruction of justice with regard to the Ukraine inquiry. Others want to tailor the articles very narrowly to the Ukraine scandal.

On the podcast

It seems that every politician in Washington has their mind made up on impeachment. Republicans continue to support Trump. Democrats are eager to wrap up the inquiry as soon as possible. But should Democrats wait for testimony from key figures like Bolton? And what does a new Washington Post report reveal about the White House's attempt to justify the suspension of aid to Ukraine?

I talked to CNN Washington analyst Stephen Collinson and CNN political analyst Margaret Talev. In particular, I was interested in their thoughts on the idea that Democrats have no choice but to move ahead with impeachment, even though they know it's unlikely Trump will be removed from office. Listen here.

What are we doing here?

The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats want to impeach him for it. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what's acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.

Keep track of congressional action with CNN's Impeachment Tracker. See a timeline of events. And get your full refresher on who's who in this drama.

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