Moments after the Supreme Court resoundingly rejected President Donald Trump’s claims to total immunity from prosecution on Thursday, the president did what he usually does: He began venting his rage on Twitter.
Behind the scenes, however, members of his team were far more serene.
“It’s not something we are worrying about,” an adviser to Trump’s re-election campaign bluntly told The Daily Beast.
That’s because, as that adviser and another source working on the president’s re-election effort say, they are operating under the belief that the ruling will be a non-issue, at least for now. There is widespread expectation that any resulting revelations about the president’s finances will occur after the 2020 election, nullifying any immediate political damage from the court.
That sense of relief marked a coda on a dramatic and constitutionally consequential Friday morning, in which the court issued a pair of 7-2 decisions, ruling that the president’s blanket claims of immunity from legal investigation—both by Congress and law enforcement authorities in New York—lacked legal merit. In broad strokes, the decisions were setbacks for Trump, which may explain why he tweeted, shortly after they were handed down, that it was “Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!”
But the court also remanded both cases to lower courts to consider specific objections to the proceedings, ones that don’t simply claim the president is above the law by virtue of his office, giving the president’s re-election team what it wanted: time.
Though congressional Democrats and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance may gain access to Trump’s tax returns and other financial records, that information is not likely to emerge before voters go to the polls in November. If that was any comfort for Trump, his immediate, barely comprehensible Twitter outburst didn’t show it. But congressional Democrats were not entirely pleased either. The decision dealt a blow of sorts to congressional oversight powers, rejecting the broad scope of House Democrats’ requests for financial information from the president, and putting in place new standards for subpoenas to have to meet.
For legal conservatives, it was a satisfactory outcome—finding a middle ground between demands for congressional and law enforcement oversight powers and separation of powers claims by the president.
“I think they struck a pretty good balance,” said Devin Watkins, a member of the Federalism and Separation of Powers Executive Committee at the conservative Federalist Society, in a Thursday conference call with reporters on the two cases, Trump v. Mazars and Trump v. Vance.
“They didn’t rubber stamp the subpoenas of the House of Representatives, but nor did they rubber stamp the opinions of President Trump’s personal attorney,” Watkins said of the former.
The balance of the two decisions was evident in a concurring opinion offered by Trump’s two Supreme Court nominees—Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—who sided with the court’s more progressive members on the overarching question of presidential immunity. But the two men explicitly carved out the president’s right to raise other constitutional objections to the breadth and scope of congressional requests for information.
When asked by reporters to weigh in at a press briefing on Thursday, Trump’s White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed that the president was “gratified” by the day’s decision. She also, however, argued that recent rulings demonstrated the imperative of re-electing Trump and placing more conservatives on the Court.
Jenna Ellis, an attorney to Trump and his re-election campaign, said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Thursday morning, that the rulings amounted to “a delayed victory for President Trump,” even though they clearly discounted his broad claims of legal immunity.
“Democrats have continued to harass President Trump through the Russia Witch Hunt, the Impeachment Hoax, and other lies and manipulations, and Democrats will continue to lose,” said Ellis. “All Americans, including the President of the United States, have a right to be free from politically-motivated harassment.”
Thursday’s decision follows weeks of Trump griping that the Supreme Court, to which he has already appointed two justices with strong conservative track records, is not nearly friendly enough. For years, he has viewed it as the job, at least in part, of the justices and judges he nominates to “be loyal” and protective of him, on both personal and policy matters, according to three people who’ve spoken to the president about this.
In the past few weeks, the president’s frustrations over the court’s ideological makeup have flared up again—fueled by multiple recent decisions, including on immigration—that have left him feeling that the highest court in the land had not yet been remade sufficiently in his vision. He repeatedly told close advisers in the past month that one way he thinks he can secure re-election is by hyper-motivating his base voters, particularly evangelicals, by messaging that the Supreme Court is still “too liberal” and that failing to re-elect Trump could risk undoing all the judicial progress they’ve made since 2017, two sources familiar with the president’s conversations say.
The president, naturally, was monitoring Thursday’s decision closely, with the case and its potential fallout adding to the cluster of re-election-year woes that has already included a global pandemic, a crashed U.S. economy, and widespread unrest and protest.
Even though the president and his team have a chance to run out the clock between now and after the November election, the ruling still stung to MAGA stalwarts. To some Trump allies, the court’s decision was yet another betrayal from people who owed their new jobs and elevation to the 45th president of the United States. To others, it was a disappointment in diminished returns.
“[Kavanaugh and Gorsuch] missed the point,” Tom Fitton, who leads the conservative group Judicial Watch and remains a favorite of Trump’s on Twitter and on Fox programs, said on Thursday morning. He added that this is really “about presidential harassment, which is an assault on our constitutional structure of government.”
Fitton added that “the battle will continue.”