Vance made a sterling argument in his brief to the court, reminding the justices of the precedents from United States v. Nixon and Clinton v. Jones holding that the president is not immune from either the criminal or civil legal processes. He explained: “After all, requiring production of documents relating entirely to the President’s activities as a private citizen and having no relationship to his official duties poses no risk of tempering his official communications, nor does it threaten to render him unduly cautious in discharging his official duties.” He recalled the handling of a subpoena served on President Thomas Jefferson, upheld by Chief Justice John Marshall. Critically, Vance made the case that the president is entitled to no additional protection or heightened showing of need for information in his possession.
It is a tribute to Vance’s lawyering that his arguments provided the basic architecture of the 7-2 ruling (unanimous on the issue of absolute immunity) against President Trump’s monarchical ambitions. As Vance argued, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. held, “Requiring a state grand jury to meet a heightened standard of need would hobble the grand jury’s ability to acquire ‘all information that might possibly bear on its investigation.’” Roberts concluded:
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 today and hold that the President is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need. The “guard furnished to this high officer” lies where it always has — in “the conduct of a court” applying established legal and constitutional principles to individual subpoenas in a manner that preserves both the independence of the Executive and the integrity of the criminal justice system.
Upon receiving a favorable verdict, Vance released a statement that was a model of prosecutorial restraint. “This is a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one — not even a president — is above the law,” he said. “Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume, guided as always by the grand jury’s solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead.”
By Friday, the wheels of justice were turning at full speed. The New York Times reports, “The federal judge in Manhattan who first presided over the dispute issued an order on Friday asking the lawyers and the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to inform him as to whether any further action was needed in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling.”
A hearing has been set for Thursday. While the exact contours of the case remain shrouded in the secrecy of the grand jury, the Times reports Vance likely is pursuing tax and other financial records concerning a payoff to Trump’s alleged former mistress Stormy Daniels to determine if anyone “falsely accounted for the reimbursement as a legal expense to cover up the nature of the payment,” which could constitute a crime under state law. Once Vance has Trump’s financial records in hand, however, other possible financial crimes may be investigated — and most critically, state law prosecutions are not subject to presidential pardon or commutation.
In short, Vance may soon be in possession of documents Trump has spent years trying to keep under wraps. They may provide insight into alleged illegality — for which he could face a jury of his peers, after he leaves office.
Vance’s skillful lawyering has earned him the admiration of fellow attorneys and fellow citizens. For vindicating the rule of law and for pressing ahead with an effort to hold the president accountable for his conduct, we can say, well done, Mr. Vance.