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(WABNEWS) — Donald Trump had a bad day in court Tuesday — or, more accurately, in the courts.
The former US president suffered a stunning defeat in the Supreme Court over his long-running campaign to hide his tax returns, which will now go before a Democratic-led House committee.RELATED
Meanwhile, Republican-appointed appeals court judges have cooled down on their latest attempt to delay the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. A New York judge has set an October 2023 trial date for the state’s $250 million case alleging fraud against Trump, three of his children and his organization, set to drop just before primary season. Republican presidential elections. And as the hangover from his 2020 false claims of fraud lingers, Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham testified before a grand jury of Georgia who investigated the former president’s alleged election theft offer.
Given Trump’s massive legal exposure and habit of using the deliberative pace of courts to postpone accountability, it’s not unusual for him to have difficulty running cases simultaneously on the same day.
But the events on Tuesday marked the first time the legal chaos and risks surrounding it have been fully exposed since he announced his third run for the Republican presidential nomination last week. It’s the first test of whether the courtroom danger facing him on multiple fronts will detract from his ability to mount a credible presidential campaign and discourage Republican primary voters from considering an alternative candidate.
Several developments on Tuesday, including the documents case and the reality that Trump’s tax returns will soon find their way into the hands of Democrats weeks before Republicans take control of the House, suggest that two consistent legal strategies of Trump may start to unravel. The first is his claim that he, as a former president, deserves different treatment under the law than other US citizens. The second is that his lag, lag, lag approach may be reaching the limit of his usefulness. Still, former President Trump has long managed to keep scandals that could have brought down other politicians at arm’s length. And he will surely take advantage of new twists in the cases to reinforce the persecution narrative that is central to his new campaign for the White House.
But outgoing Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinsonwho is also considering a 2024 Republican presidential primary campaign, said on WABNEWS Tuesday that new evidence of turmoil surrounding Trump could be a turn-off for Republican voters.
“It’s dizzying for the public to see this kind of chaos surrounding a candidate for president,” Hutchinson told WABNEWS’s Brianna Keilar. “To me, it’s very problematic and it just reflects all the challenges that come with a Trump candidacy.”
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Trump’s refusal to follow precedent by releasing his tax returns to the public during the 2016 presidential campaign was one of the first signs of his determination to break the rules. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s decision not to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from turning over its tax documents to the House Ways and Means Committee represented a significant personal defeat, as well as a political one.
The committee’s Democratic leadership says it wants the results to decide whether there is a case for tax law changes regarding incumbent chairmen. The possibility of hidden conflicts of interest or obligations owed by presidents or underpayments or underpayments in such returns could be problematic given the CEO’s power to set tax policy. A lower court had previously found that the commission had a legitimate legislative purpose in looking at the statements. But with only a few weeks to go before Republicans take control of the House, it’s unclear how long Democrats would have to scrutinize the results or potentially make changes to the law.
It is also not certain that the public will be able to see the benefits that Trump has long tried to protect. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat who is on the committee, told WABNEWS’s Erin Burnett on Tuesday that the documents were subject to privacy protections. But she also said that the panel had the option of making the documents public and that “the pressure of time here creates an additional reason to consider doing so.”
On the merits of the case, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the Supreme Court had upheld a fundamental rule. “Since the Magna Carta, the control principle is maintained and today is no different. This rises above politics, and the commission will now carry out the oversight we have sought for the last three and a half years.”
But the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, warned that by stepping aside, the court would set a precedent that would mean no citizen could be safe from a major political party.
“By effectively giving the majority party in either house of Congress nearly unlimited power to identify and make public the tax returns of political enemies—political figures, private citizens, or even Supreme Court justices themselves—they are opening up a new and dangerous political battleground where no citizen is safe,” Brady said in a statement.
One interesting aspect will be whether Trump’s loss in the fight over tax returns will influence how future Republican presidential candidates handle their financial records. By freeing them, they could not simply re-establish a modern tradition of transparency for presidents. They could potentially outflank Trump.
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Trump’s other big disappointment came in the matter of the Mar-a-Lago documents, with the main protections the former president obtained from a trial judge in Florida now appearing in jeopardy. The Justice Department is investigating the former president for possible obstruction of justice, criminal misuse of government records and violations of the Espionage Act, which prohibits the unauthorized storage of national defense information.
A three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals expressed skepticism about Trump’s arguments about why he had the right to have a third party, known as a special master, review about 22,000 pages of materials taken from his resort in Florida. A key question at issue here is whether Trump, as a former president, is entitled to the kind of judicial intervention that could delay countless routine legal cases involving other Americans if it were widely adopted.
In a comment widely known to legal analysts, the head of the appeals court, Judge William Pryor, cast doubt on Trump’s arguments.
Jack Smith appointed as special prosecutor investigating Mar-a-Lago 1:40
“We have to be concerned about the precedent we would create that would allow any crime subject of a federal criminal investigation to go to district court and for a district court to consider this type of petition, exercise equal jurisdiction (which allows a court to intervene) and interfering with the ongoing executive branch investigation,” Pryor told Trump attorney James Trusty.
“Apart from the fact that this involves a former president, everything else about this…is indistinguishable,” Pryor told Trusty during arguments.
Another judge, Britt Grant, rebuked Trusty for calling the FBI’s search of Trump’s property “a raid,” as the former president has repeatedly done. “Do you think a raid is the correct term for the execution of an arrest warrant?” Grant asked. Trusty apologized for using the “charged term.”
Former Defense Department special counsel Ryan Goodman told WABNEWS’s Burnett the court could decide to overrule Judge Aileen Cannon, who appointed the special master, in what would be a heavy blow to the former president.
“They would basically be saying, you should never have exercised jurisdiction in the first place, Judge Cannon, you shouldn’t have,” Goodman said.
Any such move could significantly speed up the documents’ case after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special prosecutor to oversee it last week.
It could also offer the prospect of clarity to the public, which must now weigh another unprecedented political scenario involving Trump. The former president’s multiple legal challenges have delayed both cases, but Tuesday’s case offered signs that each could be moving closer to resolution.
— WABNEWS’s Kara Scannell, Katelyn Polantz, Evan Perez and Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.