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When District Attorney Cy Vance and the 23 Manhattanites comprising his grand jury probing the possible criminality of Donald Trump served a binding legal subpoena for his financial records, the documents should have been surrendered immediately. Instead, the standard legal demand ran up against an obstinate president asserting boundless executive power.
That was almost exactly 18 months ago. Trump, despite being president at the time, had no right to have his accounting firm, Mazars, withhold the returns and other files. But he tried, suing in federal court and losing and losing and losing and losing and losing and losing. Two fruitless trips up to the U.S. Supreme Court only delayed the inevitable, which was one of Trump’s goals.
On Monday the matter was settled, with a one-sentence denial by a high court Trump had helped remake with three of his own appointees. That the finality came down on George Washington’s birthday is fitting. No one, even a president, is above the law. And a grand jury is the law.
In Chief Justice John Roberts’ opening words last summer, he wrote: “In our judicial system, ‘the public has a right to every man’s evidence.’” And then the chief cited Thomas Jefferson, who complied with a grand jury call for evidence. Trump thought the rules that had applied to Jefferson didn’t cover him.
None of this means anyone outside Vance’s grand jury will see Trump’s long-hidden tax returns. That public airing will only happen if there are felony charges and the 1040s are entered into evidence. We’ll see how severe criminal allegations are, if any materialize. For years, Vance has had Trump’s New York state returns, which contain much of the same information. His continued pursuit of the federal papers points to a sound reason.
The happy expiration of Trump’s term of office has finally, formally stripped him of any immunity to prosecution he may have claimed. Now he’s just plain old Trump, naked before the law.