ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now to New York, where today, a federal judge issued a strongly worded decision ordering President Trump to turn over years of tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney. That decision was quickly stayed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. These rulings come from a grand jury investigation into whether Trump’s business dealings ran afoul of the law in New York. Joining us to discuss the case is Andrea Bernstein, co-host of the “Trump, Inc.” podcast from WNYC and ProPublica.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari, so great to be with you.
SHAPIRO: Good to have you back. Remind us where this investigation started. It actually had to do Stormy Daniels, right?
BERNSTEIN: Right, so the case started in the U.S. attorney’s office with the investigation of Michael Cohen and the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. That office eventually decided not to continue with its investigation, so the case was picked up by the Manhattan DA, who sought Trump’s tax records as part of his investigation into whether any felonies had been committed in New York state. And when he asked for the tax returns, Trump’s lawyers sued in federal court.
SHAPIRO: And what arguments did each side make?
BERNSTEIN: So President Trump’s private attorneys argued that a president cannot even be investigated, and the Manhattan district attorney said, there’s no way you can do this because it will stymie all local prosecutions. Everyone we’re investigating will be able to go to the federal courts and say, you can’t do this. The Department of Justice has also weighed in on the side of President Trump’s private business, and they’ve argued that the president deserves a hearing in federal court. But the judge came down very strongly against Trump’s lawyers’ positions.
SHAPIRO: And so after people had been waiting for years to see President Trump’s tax returns, for about an hour this morning, it looked like they actually might get a chance to – but no.
BERNSTEIN: Right, so it was not an ambiguous decision that this federal judge wrote. He said it was an extraordinary claim of immunity that the president was making, that it would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceedings, including investigations, grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, indictment prosecution, arrest, trial, conviction and incarceration.
So it’s worth pointing out the reason the special counsel did not indict the president was because he said Justice Department policy says you cannot indict a sitting president. What the president’s lawyers then argued in this case is the president cannot even be investigated. And the judge said, no, that the investigation has to be allowed to go forward. And if it can’t, it would mean not only the president, but – and I’m quoting here – any accomplices could escape being brought to justice.
SHAPIRO: Do we know of any accomplices? I mean, who might the judge have been referring to there?
BERNSTEIN: So we don’t know exactly. But we do know that the president’s business is being examined for falsifying business records because those hush money payments – they were claimed to be a legal retainer, which they were not. Third parties are being examined as well. This is a major aspect of the DA’s argument, which the court has now agreed with. You have a local prosecutor looking into local crimes, and he’s saying, what? No one can be held to account if they did a crime with the president. If you extend this argument, the president could have actually shot someone on Fifth Avenue, the judge was implying. And if he did, no co-conspirators could be held to account if you went along with the Trump lawyers’ arguments, according to the federal judge today.
SHAPIRO: So the Second Circuit has issued a stay. What happens next?
BERNSTEIN: The DA has asked for expedited arguments as soon as this Friday. There’s already a case in front of the appeals circuit – the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. This is the Trump v. Deutsche Bank case, which is a congressional case. That was argued last August. But this is different because in that case, Trump’s lawyers were saying, Congress doesn’t have a right to do a law enforcement investigation. This is a DA asking for the tax records, so we’re in uncharted territory as to what the Second Circuit will do.
SHAPIRO: Andrea Bernstein, thanks a lot.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: She’s co-host of the “Trump, Inc.” podcast from WNYC and ProPublica. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.