Has John Roberts been watching 'Hamilton'?

CNN's Poppy Harlow speaks to historian Douglas Brinkley about the Supreme Court's latest ruling on President Donald Trump's financial records and how this could impact his future as a presidential candidate.

Posted: Jul 10, 2020 6:11 AM
Updated: Jul 10, 2020 6:11 AM

The Supreme Court said President Donald Trump isn't above the law in a decision released Thursday. Read the whole story here.

Big deal, right? It's important because the justices rejected his claim of a temporary absolute immunity while in office. The historian Douglas Brinkley called it a "dark day" for Trump. And a criminal investigation into Trump's company in New York can go forward.

Not that Trump cares, because the court also did him a favor.

The justices handed the cases -- one involving the New York DA's investigation of hush money payments to Trump's alleged former mistress and the other involving lawmakers in the House -- back to lower courts.

So while he's not above the law, according to the court, his financial records are untouchable for the moment. Typical Supreme Court. That's a clear victory for him heading into the last election where he'll appear on a ballot. Read CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic on how Roberts threaded the needle so everyone felt like they got something to call a win.

Back in prison: Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations associated with those hush money payments the New York DA is investigating, was taken back into custody for violating terms of his pandemic-induced furlough.

Side note: Presidential legacies last. The other ruling released by the Supreme Court on Thursday involved tribal land in Oklahoma. Actions taken by Trump's favorite President, Andrew Jackson, featured in the decision, which found that much of the state is still tribal land for the purpose of criminal prosecutions.

Has John Roberts been watching 'Hamilton'?

We went to CNN's Katelyn Polantz to ask about today's decision and what it means both for Trump and for future presidents. Our conversation is below:

ZBW: I find the Supreme Court to be extremely frustrating. They SAY he's not above the law. But they also make sure voters will not see his financial information. What's your take?

KP: A grand jury or Congress may not get access to Trump's records by the election, but these opinions aren't about the election. They're about history and figuring out the justice system's place in it.

You can tell by how much time Chief Justice Roberts spends, especially in the Vance decision, writing about events as far back as the saga of Aaron Burr. (Roberts even throws in a footnote about how the governor of the Louisiana Territory colluded with Spain!)

"In the two centuries since the Burr trial, successive Presidents have accepted [Chief Justice John] Marshall's ruling that the Chief Executive is subject to subpoena," Roberts writes.

Funny enough, remember when a subpoena of the President was the what-if of the Mueller investigation?

At the time -- circa 2018 -- soon-to-be-attorney general Bill Barr was of the belief the President shouldn't be open to subpoena in a criminal investigation for obstruction, and Trump's lawyers were getting ready to challenge a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller never pulled the trigger, deciding his investigation didn't want or need a detour in court over a subpoena when the fact-finding was already winding down.

But now we know what the Supreme Court likely would have said about that: The President is just like every man when it comes to criminal law.

Roberts and six of his colleagues are flatly shooting down Trump's lawyers' assertion during proceedings in this case -- with the court deciding that if Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue, he would not be immune from consequence.

An absolute immunity for the President isn't "necessary or appropriate," Roberts writes in this case. "Two hundred years ago, a great jurist of our Court established that no citizen, not even the President, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding. We reaffirm that principle," the opinion ends.

So here we are, 200 years after Burr's trial and almost three years after the question dogged the Mueller investigation. We have an answer now going forward, past November.

The latest on Covid

We keep writing the same thing every day, but it's getting more important, not less. So here goes: The disconnect between Trump and the scientists is only getting more intense.

Turns out the CDC won't revisit its guidelines for reopening schools despite Trump's pressure.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who keeps popping up doing interviews with newspapers and podcasts (importantly, not on TV) , told a Wall Street Journal podcast on Wednesday that states where Covid is exploding may have to consider shutting back down.

He later clarified that. "Rather than think in terms of reverting back down to a complete shutdown, I would think we need to get the states pausing in their opening process," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Hill's editor-at-large Steve Clemons on Thursday.

120 Covid-related deaths were reported in Florida on Wednesday, a single-day record.

This Texas Tribune report is worth reading: An increase in people dying at home suggests coronavirus deaths in Houston may be higher than reported.

And Berkeley frat parties meet Covid. Ugh.

What was it all for? The most galling thing about this new surge of coronavirus is that the early sacrifice of shutting down the economy now feels completely wasted. Everyone shut things down. And, because states opened early, it's raging all over again.

Stop saying what should happen. Figure out how.

And it's also why Trump's demand that schools open is so craven. Of course the schools should open. Everyone wants the schools to open.

It's how to open up without spreading the disease that no one can seem to figure out.

One very simple thing would be to wear a face mask in public to shut down people like this Ohio lawmaker who thinks nothing is wrong.

If the schools open, as Trump demands, and teachers and other adults who work there get sick, they'll close again. Just like the states that must now pause reopening.

Yesterday, it was a summer camp in Arkansas that closed after people started testing positive. Now Nashville says it's delaying the opening of its school year -- which had been planned for August 4 -- until Labor Day at least.

Presidents and policymakers need to play chess: Think ahead, identify possible outcomes and be ready for contingencies.

That's hard to do when you don't believe there's a problem.

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