Trump and Vance Face Off in First Court Hearing Since SCOTUS Ruling

President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room in Washington last Thursday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

MANHATTAN (CN) —  One week to the day that the Supreme Court overwhelmingly rejected a claim of absolute immunity, New York prosecutors told a federal judge Thursday that President Donald Trump seeks the same backdoor relief for actions taken when he was a private citizen. 

“What the president’s lawyers are seeking here is delay,” Carey Dunne, general counsel to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, asserted at a conference that began Thursday morning at 10. “That is the strategy here.” 

With the Supreme Court splitting the difference in a pair of cases concerning Trump’s tax returns, the president’s lawyers attacked Vance’s probe this morning by invoking the overbreadth finding in the congressional case.

“This subpoena is copied, verbatim, from a congressional subpoena,” Trump’s attorney William Consovoy told the court.

In his first face-off with the president’s lawyers since the  Supreme Court’s decision, Vance’s office sounded the same warnings they have been making since Trump filed his federal lawsuit seeking to quash his subpoenas last September. On the surface, Vance’s office has prevailed at every stage of the proceeding, winning a scathing ruling from the trial judge, which was largely upheld on appeal and then affirmed by the highest court of United States.

But in effect, President Trump has sidelined Vance’s investigation by refusing to concede defeat.

Unable to execute his subpoenas for more than 10 months since issuing them on Aug. 29, Vance’s investigations have stalled with no end in sight to litigation holding up his evidence search and a presidential election looming.

“Let’s not let delay kill this case,” Dunne added, quoting the adage “justice delayed is justice denied.” 

More than citing a slogan, the district attorney’s office spelled out its fears about how dragging out the subpoena fight imperils the case where the age of the transactions at issue raises statute-of-limitations concerns. In court papers, the office invoked the danger of losing “every man’s evidence” as a result of “fading memories or lost documents.” The Aug. 29 subpoena of Trump’s accounting firm Mazars sought a wide swath of files pertaining to Trump and more than 10 of his related entities dating back to Jan. 1, 2011.

“Our office’s position, your honor, is bring it on,” Dunne said. 

Lagging in the polls, Trump may effectively receive the request the Supreme Court denied, to pause the criminal investigation until he leaves office.

Consovoy denied that his litigation strategy has been to run out the clock but to keep the subpoena focused on substance.

“The court is quite clear that the subpoena needs to be tailored to the investigation,” Consovoy said during this morning’s conference.

Trump’s legal team noted the overlap of two evidence hunts to argue that the Manhattan prosecutor’s probe showed “bad faith.” 

As Trump interprets the ruling, the Supreme Court left him an opening to challenge the subpoenas’ breadth, allege bad faith, accuse the Manhattan district attorney of political motivations and claim the probe interferes with his official duties. His legal team intends to file a new complaint by July 27.

In a ruling from October, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero skewered Trump’s immunity demand as fitting for a king but not a president. The case returns to him in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, making it the first trial court hearing in this docket to be conducted remotely via a teleconference.

“I recognize the great inconvenience that all of face because of the pandemic affecting all of our lives,” Marrero told the attorneys.

Though the judge emphasized that his main goal today was scheduling, Marrero repeatedly pressed Trump’s legal team about a “hypothetical” — asking how district attorneys who receive information about criminal transactions implicating a president should bring such information to the court. Marrero then asked a variation of that “hypothetical,” asking to imagine the procedure if the information implicated associates of the president. 

Showing the thought experiment to have been anything but fanciful, Vance petitioned Chief Justice Roberts just a day earlier to expedite transmission of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Each day that compliance with the Mazars subpoena is delayed increases the likelihood that the grand jury will not receive the documents it sought ten months ago in a timely fashion — potentially giving [Trump], as a practical matter, the absolute temporary immunity that this court rejected,” Dunne wrote. “Delay could also confer on other individuals under investigation the practical equivalent of immunity from prosecution.” 

Even a speedy resolution will spell delay for the Manhattan DA’s probe: Vance agreed to keep those subpoenas at bay until seven days after Marrero’s next ruling. 

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