At their final sitting of this term, the US Supreme Court offered considerable relief to those fearing the rule of law was in mortal danger. In two long-running cases, they effectively ruled that President Trump is not immune from investigation. It did not, however, give those voices what they wanted most - a means of removing Trump from office before November.
There were two cases. Trump was fighting the Manhattan District Attorney, who has subpoenaed his tax returns and financial records as part of a criminal investigation, from his bankers and accountants. By a 7-2 margin, the court ruled in favour of the prosecutors.
The second case was similar, but brought by Congress. Here, the court ruled that House lawyers must improve their argument. This will now go back to the lower courts.
Few expect documents to go public before November
The good news for Trump is a general consensus among legal experts that these rulings mean nothing will come out before the election in November. The US court process will simply take too long. That certainly applies to the Congressional subpoenas. Trump will continue to successfully block that democratic oversight.
However, the situation regarding New York is not crystal clear. These Trump investigations are well developed - delayed for a year by these legal challenges - and both Deutsche Bank and Mazars immediately confirmed they would comply. In theory at least, DA Cyrus Vance could move quickly and potentially indict the president before November 3rd.
Roger Stone set to be pardoned
None of this prevented Trump from declaring victory and employing his usual refrain that all the investigations are a political witch-hunt. Furthermore, it is widely reported that he will pardon Roger Stone today. Four days before the Machiavellian advisor is due to go to jail, and a couple after Facebook banned a network of fake accounts connected to him.
So what are the implications for November? It is hard to make a confident call about the New York case from outside. Shocking information about Deutsche Bank is emerging from investigations in multiple countries, such as their involvement in money laundering for the Russian mafia. Earlier this week they were fined $150M for a post-conviction relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.
It is possible that we hear more bombshell revelations regarding Trump and the bank before November. The details of their controversial relationship have been in the mainstream media for years, without ever cutting through to headline news. Eye witness accounts of the case said money laundering, involving family members, is at the centre of it.
Until or unless DA Vance makes such allegations public via an indictment, it is nevertheless hard to see the media changing tack. They've avoided the story for years, presumably in fear of looking too partisan. That dynamic doubles during an election. Nor is there much evidence that the public cares.
None of that alters the grim mood music or long-term threat for Trump. When leaving office, he will be liable for prosecution. In yet another dramatic development, a different Manhattan attorney investigating Trump and Epstein, Jeffrey Berman, explained to Congress yesterday how he was forced, bullied from office by Attorney General Bill Barr.
Keep an early resignation onside
If Trump is thinking rationally about the future, he should be looking at how to avoid prosecution upon leaving office. Critically, if found guilty of crimes in New York, he cannot receive a presidential pardon. They only apply to federal crimes, such as anything that emerges when the Mueller Report and Grand Jury evidence is fully released.
I'm not ruling out a deal. Perhaps one where he leaves office early in exchange for immunity from NY prosecutors. Resign on ill health grounds, hand over to Mike Pence, receive some sort of immunity from any federal crimes. Avoid the humiliating defeat strongly implied by polls. I don't believe this prospect is factored into Pence's odds for the presidency and, as argued last week, expect further gambles.
Awful campaign backdrop must damage re-election chances
Even if none of that ruinous controversy comes to the fore, Trump's tax returns are now centre stage again. In 2016, he became the first candidate in decades to not release them before the election, claiming he was 'under audit'. His Press Secretary pursued the same improbable defence last night.
This is, surely, a gift to Joe Biden. There are critical differences on this front with 2016. First after four years, Trump's defences look ever more self-serving and dishonest. Second, his opponent is under no such investigation. He isn't Hillary Clinton.
It is worth remembering how fortunate Trump was to face Clinton, while she was under constant federal investigation. The exaggerated scandal of using a private e-mail server was constant headline news. He was able to use it and constantly deflect his own wrongdoing.
It gave Team Trump an opportunity to revive the campaign slogan previously employed by Viktor Yanukovych - Ukraine's pro-Putin ex-president, for whom Trump's jailed manager Paul Manafort was the senior advisor - against his opponent Yulia Tymushenko. 'Lock Her Up' was chanted at every Trump rally. If his opponents have any sense, they will now turn those tables and make 'Lock Him Up' the slogan of 2020.
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