For now, the lawsuit is still pending. The appeals court could hear oral arguments as early as the week of Oct. 21, and depending on the outcome, either side may try to take it up to the Supreme Court.
Here are the decision’s key takeaways:
1. A sitting president is not immune from criminal investigation.
Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney, pleaded guilty to two federal crimes last year that arose from an arrangement to pay off adult-film star Stormy Daniels in 2016 and silence stories of an extramarital affair with Trump. The hush money — which constituted a campaign-finance violation — directly implicated the president and his businesses in a slew of illegal activity, including tax fraud and public disclosure crimes.
Now, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance is investigating whether any state laws were violated, too.
Trump is fighting a grand jury subpoena from the district attorney’s office ordering Mazars USA, his accounting firm, to turn over a bundle of documents dating to 2011 that involved the president, his businesses and many third parties.
His lawsuit filed against Vance is the most recent suit in which he’s argued a broad claim of presidential immunity and suggested that a sitting president cannot be criminally investigated, ever.
On Monday, Judge Victor Marrero rejected that argument.
In a 75-page ruling, Marrero called Trump’s request for a “virtually limitless” shield from criminal process “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.”
No one, he reminded Trump, is above the law.
2. Under certain circumstances, a sitting president may be indicted.
Although nothing in the Constitution precludes the indictment of a sitting president, there is long-standing Justice Department guidance against it. This stems from three decades-old memos written by White House lawyers that presume a criminal prosecution would interfere with a president’s exercising his executive duties.
Citing these conclusions, Trump sought to expand his presidential power. It seems, however, he may have done the opposite.
Marrero wrote that Trump’s reliance on the memos was “misplaced,” and questioned any guidelines crafted not by assessing an actual case with real facts but from remote hypotheticals and “hyperbolic horrors.”
Moreover, state criminal law enforcement isn’t subject to Justice Department policy or tradition — meaning local prosecutors, such as Vance, are not bound by the memos when making charging decisions.
3. If the appeals court rules for the district attorney, Trump may still successfully shield himself, others and his tax returns.
Since taking office, Trump has been fending off investigations seeking his financial records and tax returns.
In two unrelated cases, Trump is battling to block Congress from getting the same documents. If Vance prevails, they would be shown to only the grand jurors, who are required by law to keep the evidence presented secret.
The president’s attorneys have said they will appeal up to the Supreme Court, which could last until Trump is out of office. Any supposed “immunity” a president has from indictment while in office expires when his time is over. For Trump, that could be on Jan. 20, 2021, assuming the statute of limitations — the deadline by which prosecutors must bring criminal charges — has not yet expired.
But the district attorney’s office said it’s running out of time to bring a criminal case.
Allowing even a short stay “means they win and we lose,” Carey Dunne, the general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney, argued to Marrero. The grand jury’s work would be “irreparably impeded by additional delay."