SCOTUS Just Proved That the Law Will Not Protect Us

Late Friday afternoon the Supreme Court issued a ruling that will block any formal, legally sanctioned disclosure of Trump’s tax returns until about next summer, at the earliest. Even if the Court allows the release of those records in any of the three pending cases, it will take months for prosecutors in New York and Congressional investigators to comb through this rat’s nest of financial obfuscation and piece together their meaning. Thanks to the Court’s decision, it is unlikely that we will know the real story of the Trump Administration before the next election.

Our Supreme Court has chosen to use its power to protect the President and strip us of our ability to hold him accountable for crimes.

There is no legal issue of any credibility at stake in these cases, no reason the Court needs to accept this appeal at all. If Justices felt the need to grant the President some veneer of respect by hearing the matter, they could have expedited this case and resolved it within weeks. Bush v. Gore made the journey from initial filing in Federal Court to a final Supreme Court decision in a single month, and that case involved serious unresolved constitutional issues. This case, though deeply important, involves absolutely no legal ambiguity. The President’s counsel has raised no interesting or novel theories, no coherent dissents have been filed by lower courts, and there is no conflict among the courts to settle. All three cases sailed through their appeals, because the law is so abundantly clear and the gravity of the matters so intense.

Let’s be absolutely clear about the decision four Supreme Court Justices just made. Our Supreme Court chose to use their power to derail a criminal investigation of the President. This is the second Bush v. Gore, but this time they are working to reelect a criminal.

We are alone. No grown-ups are coming to save us. At every step, our political system has failed this stress-test, as leaders we chose to protect us hedged, equivocated, and ultimately prioritized their power over the survival of representative government.

In at least one of the three court cases seeking Trump’s financial records, Congressional investigators were looking for conclusive proof that the President and his family are involved in money laundering for our foreign enemies. This is not a case about blowjobs or hanging chads. Prosecutors are attempting to protect the republic from a leader who, they have reason to believe, is being paid by our enemies. The Supreme Court has, for no legal reason and without holding a hearing, halted that investigation at least until next year, and very likely killed it altogether.

What’s in Trump’s tax returns? That’s addressed in more detail here, but those records probably contain the only honest account of Trump’s life and business interests. Why do Trump’s finances matter? It’s an open secret that Trump’s been laundering money for the Russian mob and others for decades. Those records will explain the logic behind Trump’s otherwise “erratic” or “unpredictable” policy choices. They will also provide a template to understand the pipeline of foreign money flowing into our wider political system.

Why is this disclosure so important? Right now, our fascists are able to expand their power smoothly and gradually under the color of law. Trump laziest or most incompetent lackeys are still going to jail, but that hollow spectacle of due process continues to shield the expansion of unaccountable power. Our fascists are succeeding because they haven’t been forced to openly defy legal authority, at least not yet. Why aren’t Americans in the streets? Because we continue to “trust the process.” We trust the process because leaders continue to pretend to respect law, at least at the core.

Public disclosure of Trump’s finances will strip away the fig leaf of legitimacy on which this regime’s power depends. Even if prosecutors hesitated to act on disclosures from those returns, journalists would be able to build a case, a la Epstein, so powerful that authorities would be backed into a choice. Either abandon the façade of legality entirely, or sacrifice Trump. At this point, the law could still be forced operate toward the public interest, given enough pressure.

More to the point, Trump’s businesses operate in large part on secrecy. Strip the secrecy they offer to their clients, and those businesses become radioactive. If the Trump family lost the capacity to profit in secrecy, they would lose the ability to profit at all.

This arbitrary delay granted by the Supreme Court blocks investigations of Trump’s money laundering from producing any outcomes before the election. After the election, regardless who wins, these investigations are certain to die.

If Trump wins, the gains he’s already established in our political system, particularly inside the Department of Justice, will be cemented. These matters will quietly go away, just like the Epstein case. If a Democrat wins, they’ll almost certainly pull a Ford, letting this matter lapse “in the interest of unity.”

No one who earns a living in politics on either side wants our system to start investigating the ethical failings of former officeholders. It is in their deep personal interest to let sleeping dogs lie. Without even hearing arguments or issuing a decision, our Supreme Court has snuffed out any practical hope that Trump will be held accountable for his crimes.

Since the authorities have for all practical purposes immunized the President, we are left with only extra-legal avenues to bring this crucial evidence into light. The public has to 1) recognize the central importance of this issue, 2) pressure our political representatives to take this matter seriously, and 3) take matters into our own hands, by any and all available means, bringing intolerable pressure on those who continue to shield the President from accountability.

America didn’t learn the contents of the Pentagon Papers through the orderly functioning of due process, and they never would have. Trump’s tax records are sitting, most likely in printed, paper form, in a facility or facilities under the supervision of Mazars. They are also very likely available in digital form in Mazars’ systems. Many other financial institutions, including Deutsche Bank, are holding full or partial copies. Americans need this disclosure to protect the survival of our political system.

The IRS Commissioner, who works for you, is also under a valid subpoena to provide Trump’s records to Congress. The Supreme Court has issued a stay against *enforcement* of that subpoena, but he remains within his legal authority to follow the law and deliver those records to Congress. Charles Rettig should sit in jail until he complies with Congress’ subpoena. He should be chained next to the other Trump Administration officials who are refusing to comply with lawful subpoenas.

Yes, the courts would probably let him out, at least on the question of the tax return subpoena. But he should then be hauled right back into Congress, or to jail if necessary, and made to answer questions about his relationship to the President and his personal financial connections to Trump businesses. The cost of collusion must rise.

Trump’s collaborators are cowards and opportunists. Make it mildly uncomfortable to protect Donald Trump, and his lackeys will melt.

Leaders at Mazars should be forced to testify before Congress about the extent of their relationships, at the organizational and personal level, to Trump’s family businesses. Individual leadership figures at Mazars’ US operation, listed here, are now public figures of tremendous national importance. They could, by official or unofficial means, see those returns brought into daylight if they wanted to. If the cost of protecting Trump rose high enough for them personally, you would find yourself reading an official copy of Donald Trump’s tax returns regardless of law, injunctions, subpoenas, or any court decision.

No one at Mazars should be able to do business outside the cloud of their collusion with this regime. No one should be able to walk into a Mazars office without facing the angry public gathered around their door. Similarly, Deutsche Bank leadership should be under tremendous, personal pressure. Frankly, they are already in trouble thanks to decades of corrupt practices. But they aren’t in nearly enough trouble, and their leaders still walk the streets in peace.

Our leaders have failed. Our justice system has failed. The guardrails we counted on to protect us from being exploited by criminals have failed. We live now under a nascent fascist regime, and without extraordinary public pressure to disrupt their expanding power, representative democracy will soon be a memory. Bringing Donald Trump’s financial records into daylight is the key to reestablishing democratic legitimacy in the US, and likely to protecting liberal democracy globally. Trump’s financial records are a big deal.

Right now, nothing would frustrate the plans of American fascists like the disclosure of the President’s financial arrangements. We need those records by any means necessary. The people who are protecting this regime by withholding those records should be made to pay a price for their collusion that they will consider too high to continue. Organized, disciplined public pressure may yet succeed where our public institutions and the so-called “rule of law” have failed.

23 Comments

    1. This is kind of a big deal.

      Christianity Today is the magazine for evangelicals who like to pretend that they read. It certainly doesn’t have the reach of an outlet like Fox News, but evangelicalism is very authoritarian and hierarchical. Their readers are influential people in local congregations.

      The people who read CT are the white collar types who hold prominent positions in a local church. You know the type, the most successful guy in his cul de sac in the suburbs of Dayton or Oklahoma City. They are the people who mediate disputes and determine the tone of internal disagreements in these loony little churches.

      CT is not a bold magazine. They don’t take stands on anything that isn’t already popular among your average Wonder Bread-eating evangelical churchgoer. They would not have allowed that piece to go to press unless they were picking up very strong signals of unease from the pews.

      CT just issued a hunting license. That doesn’t necessarily signal an internal revolt against Trump among evangelicals, but it means that the smartest of these morons are starting to see the threat to their survival from what’s becoming a competing cult. It might not doom Trump’s ’20 chances, but it suggests that one God may be about to declare war on the other.

  1. Here’s some political strategy guessing games to play. The impeachment ball is headed for the Senate’s court, but won’t get there before the conditions for the trial have been set, because Pelosi is holding on to it for now. I think everyone here would emphatically agree that a trial without witnesses should not be an option. So how to negotiate that? One notion for discussion- should the Dems do some horse trading on witnesses? Would getting John Bolton under oath be worth agreeing to let the GOP have Hunter Biden appear? I say this knowing that Biden is a total red herring and not knowing if he did anything that could prove detrimental to the case the Dems would make.

  2. Excellent write up by Linda Greenhouse:

    ” . . I predicted that the justices would take their institutional interests into account and turn the cases down.

    “I was wrong.

    “And on reflection, now that the court has agreed to hear those two appeals plus a third, I’m glad I was wrong. Here’s why: The eventual decisions, to come in the months after the as-yet unscheduled arguments in late March or early April, will give the country much-needed clarity about the Supreme Court. With the court in the full glare of an election-year spotlight, we will learn beyond any doubt what kind of Supreme Court we have — and whether its evolution into partnership with a president who acts as if he owns it is now complete.”

    And

    “I’ve quoted from each of the three opinions for a reason: As the weeks go by, the country will be subjected to gaslighting from the White House so intense that it won’t be easy even for those who have actually read the full opinions to hold on to the knowledge of how carefully circumscribed they are.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/19/opinion/trump-tax-supreme-court.html

  3. Well, the day has come where the House Democrats hand the keys of democracy to the Senate Republicans with full knowledge they are standing by to drive it right off the cliff.

    I don’t really get why my left-of-center friends are happy but I think 45 should be. Coming in at third place is like a bronze metal, which would be the only single one he’s ever earned. He knows he’s not losing his job, or his business, or his freedom, and he now is planted even deeper in the history textbooks. Good for him, sad for us.

    1. What would you have had them do otherwise? Even if Chris is perfectly right that Pelosi doesn’t want Trump’s finances investigated for fear of retaliation, the man sold out American foreign policy for political gain. To not impeach him now would’ve been nothing less than a declaration that the president is well and truly above the law.

      1. The House Democrats did the right moral and legal thing. This gives Republicans the political and tactical advantage.

        Democrats are forced to do what’s right, helping Republicans win. I’m not against what the House Democrats did, I am just saddened about how it sets up the Republicans to destroy yet another function of the separation of powers.

        After Senate Republicans clear 45, there’s no going back: Presidents will know that they can commit crimes publicly as long as one chamber supports them, and I give it until the next Democratic POTUS/ Republican led House before impeaching presidents just becomes a thing the House does performatively (because “The Democrats started it, they politicized impeachment”).

        So, the Democrats did the right thing, and it makes me sad.

      2. The hand-wringing over impeachment is driving me bonkers. Impeachment is bad for a President. Confronting wrongdoing creates problems for the wrongdoers. Just because it doesn’t vaporize him, doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful.

        Trump is squealing because he’s wounded. He’s crying because he’s losing. He’s angry about impeachment because it severely limits his already shrinking power, and destroys any remaining delusional hope he might have had of building a legacy, with continuing political influence.

        What we learn from exercises like the Milgram Experiment is that people are more likely to resist oppressive, authoritarian or abusive leaders if other people resist them. Much, more more likely. Placing Trump in a position of being defied and embarrassed does not help him, not even with his stupid supporters. It weakens him.

        Even when the matters in question are relatively minor (Clinton), impeachment severely harms a President’s power and influence. Clinton was wrecked by the impeachment effort. For the rest of his lame-duck term, Republicans rolled over him, accomplishing almost as much as they would have hoped for under a Dole Administration.

        This disaster came as such a shock to the system to smart people, that they find themselves doubting their every instinct to the point of paralysis. It makes me sad.

      3. Amen to what Chris said. If you can’t impeach over something as brazenly corrupt as this, you might as well take it out of the Constitution; it’s like a vestigial organ that’s non-functional and withered.

        We know that the odds overwhelmingly point to a Senate acquittal. But notice how the craven toadies in the Senate are trying to avoid having witnesses appear. Why should they care, if their votes are predetermined? Because they know that it will make them look very bad if Bolton, Pompeo, Mulvaney, etc. are compelled to testify under oath and they acquit anyway with damning evidence in public view. This is where pressure can still be brought to bear. Cowardly GOP Senators will likely vote to acquit while ignoring evidence, but they should be forced to ignore ALL of the evidence out in the open, where everyone can see them. No hiding. They know how bad it will look, hence McConnell’s whining. As Chris said, we need the costs of collusion to be higher.

      4. “Trump is squealing because he’s wounded. He’s crying because he’s losing.”

        Honestly I don’t really know how you can tell the difference between 45 being himself and 45 being upset. I will take your word for it.

        “He’s angry about impeachment because it severely limits his already shrinking power,”

        I don’t see how impeachment changes the current dynamic. What specific powers of the office does he lose if he’s acquitted?

        “and destroys any remaining delusional hope he might have had of building a legacy, with continuing political influence.”

        That’s where the article I shared here comes in. 45 has already turned the Republican Party into a Trump family asset and that is not going to change when he leaves office — by any means. He fully intends to drive the Republican Party for his means long after having to do tedium he hates like actually showing up and working.

      5. EJ

        Currently, Trump is spending his time ranting about the difficulties in flushing his monstrous huge turds. This is not the behaviour of a man who is healthy in the head, to say nothing of the health of his digestive system.

        I’m going to agree with Chris here: this feels like avoidant behaviour. He can’t change the topic from his own impeachment, he can’t face into it, he can’t escape it, so all he can do is be backed into a corner and complain about his ten-flush problems.

        This is a good state. Let’s see how long he can stay there and what he does when he can’t bear it any more.

  4. EJ

    Gonna disagree with you there, Chris. The system has not failed. On the contrary, the system has done exactly what it was designed to do. It’s just that what it was designed to do is not what you want it to be designed to do. If you thought you weren’t living in a system intended to protect wealth from scrutiny and consequences, then not only did you think wrong, but also you weren’t listening to me when I said it over the last few years.

    Does that mean we need to go to the barricades and start throwing petrol bombs at cops? No, not yet. There is still the option of electing a genuine reformer, like Warren or Sanders. There’s going to be a lot of money and influence opposing us in this, because people like Buttigieg and Biden exist to protect wealth from reform, but it’s still worth pursuing peaceful revolution rather than violent if at all possible.

    1. For starters, yes. You were right.

      But this isn’t about violence, it’s about placing resistance in the right spots. There is only the narrowest possibility right now that an election will save us. Warren is the only candidate with an interest in pursuing tougher disclosures, and her prospects don’t look good.

      Using very forceful public pressure could produce movement on those tax records. Mazars’ leadership team does not want to be famous. They do not want to have people ask them questions at their local coffee shop (or ski slope or whatever). Make it difficult for these people to operate and they’ll invent a way to cough up the goods.

      I remain convinced that the roadmap provided by Trump’s financial records will be essential to building public will, and eventually public policy, toward constraining this kind of money laundering. I don’t think violence is necessary to get the job done, and it’s more likely it would backfire, but there a lot of ways to influence an accounting firm’s cost curve.

      1. EJ

        I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist, so I am happy to follow a plan which doesn’t involve me having to kill anyone. However, pacifism is a different path to take if the other guy is intent on using violence to protect their position. We may have the courage of our convictions but they have guns and prisons, and let’s ask Chelsea Manning and the organisers of the Ferguson demonstrations how well that’s worked out for them.

        In some ways I think the story has moved beyond Trump now: by the time anything comes out, he’ll be irrelevant. There are other places to put pressure on corruption which are more timely, in my opinion: Pete Buttigieg’s shady McKinsey past needs some harsh light shone on it, for example, and Peter Thiel has been spending way too much time out of public scrutiny for my liking.

      2. I have to agree with Chris here. Politicians have made the Faustian bargain to throw their private lives, family, friends, etc. to the wolves in pursuit of their power. But people like accountants, Deutsche CEOs, and regular civil servants didn’t. Make the cost of their compliance with the fascist be the same, and they’ll cave far faster than a politician.

        For all its faults, Occupy Wall St. did one thing right. By being in front of the big banks’ Wall St. offices every day, they annoyed and scared their workers on their daily commute to work, and served as a powerful reminder that even if they’re not in jail, the vast majority of the country would pay to see their severed heads line their beloved street. That’s actually quite a powerful disincentive for a lot of people who value being anonymous and private.

        It’s the same way that Republicans intimidate climate change scientists. They can’t attack their results. But they make it clear that if they make one mistake, no matter how tiny or innocuous, and they will be hauled in front of a Senate committee and excoriated on public television, in a way no other scientist ever is. That’s enough to make plenty of budding researchers think twice about working in climate science.

        We need to make it clear to the accountants, lawyers, and businessmen of the world, that if you decide to work with Trump, you’re risking being subpoena’d by Congress, the NY Times going through every single transaction your bank does with every shady money launderer in the world, and you personally having your face plastered on the front of the Washington Post as you get grilled by a bunch of 70 year olds who might not know accounting but sure as hell know the art of riling their supporters’ outrage towards targets of their choice. Once their peers shun them rather than risk getting the same treatment, the effect will be complete. Do you really think Deutsche Bank considers Trump to be a vital part of their business? Even within their money laundering business (admittedly a large part of what they do), it’s chump change. Raise the cost enough and they’ll cave.

        I also can’t help but wonder that, given the number of copies that are out there, how has it not been leaked yet? All you need is one employee, perhaps even one outside American jurisdiction (hello DB), to take a few snapshots with his camera and it would be done. Given Trump’s atrocious record at maintaining silence among his staff, how is this the one part of his life that has been kept absolutely secret? Are the records so damning that it would spread far beyond Trump? Perhaps DB is more afraid of Putin than they are of Trump? I get the sense the secrecy of these records is worth a lot to people far nastier than Trump, which is the only way they could have stayed secret for so long.

        Also, while I’m disappointed by the SC ruling, I’m not so sure nothing will happen after 2020. One of the cases comes from the NY AG. Even if a Dem President decides to “look forward, not backward” the NY AG will most likely continue their case. And as you mention, the real loss to Trump isn’t whatever ruling comes his way. It’s that once the records are unsealed, all of his money laundering clients will scatter, leaving his financial empire to topple. That can happen even without a formal court decision.

      3. I spoke with a friend who retired from A very high position at the IRS after a long career. I posed the question to her about accessibility to trump’s tax returns. Her response? They will never be breeched. They are under lock and key. The only way for them to see the “ light of day”, (prior to General Election 2020), is by court order, timely. That’s been stymied thus far by the conservative majority on SCOTUS.

        I share Aaron’s opinion that even though impeachment is
        Is needling trump, it appears to be effectively consolidating his stranglehold on the GOP (complicity and common greed are amazing motivators). I cannot begin to recount the number of people in my family (All Educated, successful professionals), who are dismissive of the House Intelligence Committee testimony as well as the irresponsible actions and derisive Treatment of career professionals and democratic institutions by trump. Genetics are our only commonality these days.
        Thus, while I “persist” in my hope and small personal efforts that this madness has to self-destruct, each new day reveals more erosion in the reality staring me in the face.

  5. Long time lurker first time commenter.

    This is so dispiriting. It’s starting to feel as if our slide into fascism is inevitable? It might be worth looking at what our version of it might look like and how deep we’ll go. I’m particularly concerned about voter suppression and judicial capture. These are hard to fight using the degrading systems at our disposal.

    1. EJ

      Your way is incoherent, Dinsdale.

      (The below is a critique of Dinsdale’s continuous advocacy of assassination, using Leftist critique. Chris, Creigh, and anyone else who’s a capitalist, you might want to skip this.)

      Why does the system protect Trump? Because he’s a rapist? No, because he’s wealthy. The Supreme Court would not protect a poor rapist. Why does Trump steal? Because he’s a cartoon villain who wants to twirl his mustache? No, because he wants to increase his wealth, and because with the declining rate of profit and the negative interest rate, there’s no honest way to increase wealth.

      In other words, Trump is behaving exactly like any wealthy rentier would behave. If he were to die and all his money were to go to Ivanka, she would also do the same things, because those are the things that people with that sort of money do. It’s not her conscience that makes the crime happen, it’s the size of her bank account.

      Therefore, if you succeed in your attempt to persuade someone to kill Trump, it won’t matter. Thanks to inheritance law, the money stays intact, and bullets can’t affect bank accounts. In order to prevent the crimes and the corruption, you need to take control of those laws, either by revolution or by electoralism. Neither of these require individual acts of violence; both require organisation and patience.

      Lest we forget, I’m still waiting for you to post a picture of yourself participating in an antifascist action. Until you do so, I’m not taking you seriously as a Leftist, just as some blowhard making a pretty incompetent attempt at stochastic terrorism.

      1. EJ, I completely and utterly reject all your positions.

        In no particular order:

        1. Sure, I am going to post a picture of myself on a website that could be tracked. Try that logic with anyone in Hong Kong, or any number, actually, ALL countries where the powers have technology to identify faces. I see in your photo YOUR face was covered, assuming it was you at all.

        2. If you are an anti-fascist, I am sure your comrades in arms must be thrilled you are a “dyed in the wool pacifist” when your crew has go up against the Tommy Robinson and his band of thugs. Violence is not coming. It is here. The fascists have embraced it as a political tool for a long long time now. The side to protect democracy must embrace it as well.

        3. Tell me, what scenario requires less violence:
        a. The tyrant is a one-off, and anomaly, and its removal from the gene pool will help stabilize the crisis we are in.
        b. The tyrant is the natural end-product of a highly entrenched economic-political regime that has evolved and taken even more power beginning with Reagan and Thatcher. This regime has enormous wealth and power, and has demonstrated it will do anything to maintain and expand its position.

        4. Tell me, as a Brit, if the current media reach (Fox News being the prime example) and political climate existed in 1773, what would the Sons of Liberty be labelled as? Perhaps “terrorists”, by the British media and government? The Nazi’s considered the various resistance groups as “terrorists” and “insurgents”, and treated them as such.

        5. There is nothing stochastic about what I see is the eventual outcomes. Either the masses of the planet rise up and rid the planet of the 1%, (or maybe the 30%), or democracy dies completely. It is binary. There is no middle ground.

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