In a major showdown over presidential powers in the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday, justices seemed divided over President Donald Trump’s efforts to quash subpoenas for his financial records from congressional committees but more sympathetic towards a New York prosecutor’s attempt to access many of the same records.
The court’s conservative majority repeatedly signalled concern about improper harassment of the Republican president in both instances, but – based on their questions – seemed more sceptical of the president’s attempts to keep those records from getting into the hands of state prosecutors.
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Liberal Justice Elena Kagan told Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, who also represented Trump in the impeachment hearings in January, that a “fundamental precept of our constitutional order is that the president is not above the law”.
The court’s decision in the cases, expected in June, could shape the outcome of November’s presidential election and redefine the limits of presidential power for decades to come. Rulings against the president could lead to the campaign season release of personal financial information that Trump has kept shielded from investigators and the public.
During the first session – dedicated to the congressional subpoenas – lawyers arguing on the president’s behalf alleged that the subpoenas amounted to unnecessary “harassment” of Trump and his family, noting that the requests for financial records extended beyond the president to his children and grandchildren.
A ruling against the president, they argued, would open the door for “endless subpoenas and harassment” anytime one party controlled the presidency and the other the White House.
It would “reshape and transform the balance of power … and harm and undermine the presidency of the United States – not just this president but the institution of the presidency going forward,” said Jeffrey Wall, a deputy solicitor general. “It doesn’t take much imagination to see where that road will lead and that we will regret having taken it.”
In the afternoon session, devoted to similar requests as part of a criminal investigation by a district attorney in New York City, Trump’s lawyers argued that the president is immune from prosecution by local authorities who may be motivated by political considerations.
A view of the US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
Sekulow said a ruling that allowed the New York investigation to proceed would amount to “weaponising” 2,300 prosecutors across the US.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito, however, challenged Sekulow’s assertion that a grand jury’s subpoena cannot be enforced against a sitting president in a case in which waiting for a president to leave office would undermine a criminal prosecution.
Chief Justice John Roberts’ questions of lawyers representing both Trump and the House signalled his view of the need to strike a balance between the powers of the president and Congress. He expressed scepticism that Congress had no authority to issue a subpoena or that a court could second-guess its motivations to do so, while also doubting that congressional power was limitless.
Roberts also seemed sceptical of arguments by a House lawyer, Doug Letter, that legislators have broad authority to investigate a president for the purpose of writing laws.
“Your test is not much of a test. It’s not a limitation,” Roberts told Letter, adding that the House needed to take into account that it was dealing with a co-equal branch of government.
Before the coronavirus pandemic erupted, the cases marked the most politically treacherous proceedings against Trump since the impeachment hearings in January. If, as some have testified, the financial records show that Trump has been artificially inflating his net worth for decades – to both the general public and to the banks lending him money – the sheen on his career in business, one of the president’s primary selling points, could quickly lose its lustre.
The court is holding its second week of arguments by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic, with audio available live to audiences around the world for the first time in the court’s history.
The cases before the Supreme Court on Tuesday involving tax records from President Trump resemble earlier disputes over presidents’ assertions that they were too consumed with the job of running the country to worry about lawsuits and investigations.
In 1974, the justices acted unanimously in requiring President Richard Nixon to turn over White House tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor. In 1997, another unanimous court allowed a sexual-harassment lawsuit to go forward against President Bill Clinton.
Appellate courts in Washington and New York have ruled that the documents should be turned over, but those rulings have been put on hold pending a final court ruling. The appellate decisions brushed aside the president’s broad arguments, focusing on the fact that the subpoenas were addressed to third parties asking for records of Trump’s business and financial dealings as a private citizen, not as president.
House committees want records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One, as well as the Mazars USA accounting firm. Mazars also is the recipient of the subpoena from the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
Two congressional committees subpoenaed the bank documents as part of their investigations into Trump and his businesses. Deutsche Bank has been one for the few banks willing to lend to Trump after a series of corporate bankruptcies and defaults starting in the early 1990s.
Vance and the House Oversight and Reform Committee sought records from Mazars concerning Trump and his businesses based on payments that Trump’s then-personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to keep two women from airing their claims of affairs with Trump during the 2016 presidential race.
Lukashenko seeks Putin’s help in attempt to survive mass protests |NationalTribune.com
Russia has agreed to a $1.5bn loan with Minsk, President Vladimir Putin said at talks on Monday with Alexander Lukashenko, the embattled Belarusian leader, adding that the Belarusian people should resolve the crisis without foreign interference. Putin, in comments broadcast on television from the talks in Russia’s Sochi, said he thought a proposal by Lukashenko to carry…
Russia has agreed to a $1.5bn loan with Minsk, President Vladimir Putin said at talks on Monday with Alexander Lukashenko, the embattled Belarusian leader, adding that the Belarusian people should resolve the crisis without foreign interference.
Putin, in comments broadcast on television from the talks in Russia’s Sochi, said he thought a proposal by Lukashenko to carry out constitutional reform was logical and timely.
Lukashenko arrived in Sochi to meet Putin on Monday, as protests continued across Belarus seeking the end of his rule following a disputed August 9 election.
His plane landed in the Black Sea region a day after police arrested 774 people at anti-government rallies across the country, including 500 in the capital, Minsk, the Belarusian interior ministry said. At least 100,000 protesters flooded the streets of Minsk on Sunday.
The meeting, in which Lukashenko thanked Putin for his support, marked the first face-to-face talks between the leaders since the contested Belarusian election.
Putin congratulated Lukashenko on his victory at the time, but later described the vote as not ideal. The Russian president’s actions have so far suggest he has no desire to see the leader of a neighbouring ex-Soviet country toppled by pressure from the streets – even if Lukashenko has often proved a prickly and difficult ally.
Protests, some featuring violence, have gripped the country for five weeks since the vote, with anti-Kremlin placards seen at some rallies
“I’m worried about Russia’s intentions to enforce its interests here. We have to be friends with Russia, but it is not good for neighbouring countries to be involved in our internal problems,” said a protester at Sunday’s rally.
Katsiaryna Shmatsina of the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies told Al Jazeera: “Lukashenko this month has exhausted all the tools he used to apply in the previous years which were used to large scale oppression towards people. People would get beaten and detained and then this would scale down protests. This time this doesnt work.”
On Monday, the UN rights council agreed to host an urgent debate on reports of violence at the hands of authorities during protests.
Lukashenko, 65, last week gave an interview to Russian journalists, including Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Kremlin-controlled channel RT, in which he warned that if his government falls, “Russia will be next”.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the Eastern European nation of 9.5 million people with an iron fist since 1994, has previously blamed the West for fomenting demonstrations in Belarus in hopes of turning it into a “bridgehead against Russia”.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Minsk, said: “Lukashenko has left Belarus for the first time since the political crisis has started and his bargaining position has not improved after this mass rally on Sunday. He was hoping to keep the numbers low to show to President Putin that he has everything under control which obviously didn’t work.
“He needs more support from President Putin then ever before. And Putin is willing to give him his support because Putin really wants to prevent Belarus to fall in the hands of the West and possibly NATO. But that support will come at a price.”
Belarusian opposition politician Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, currently in Lithuania, warned Putin against signing any agreement with Lukashenko.
“She said she was sorry Putin was having a dialogue with an usurper and not with the Belarusian people,” said Vaessen.
New York AG seeks to ‘dissolve’ US National Rifle Association |NationalTribune.com
New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a bombshell lawsuit in a state court seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association and alleging millions in donor funds were diverted under the leadership of NRA president Wayne LaPierre. The NRA “operated as a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality”, James said in a…
New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a bombshell lawsuit in a state court seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association and alleging millions in donor funds were diverted under the leadership of NRA president Wayne LaPierre.
The NRA “operated as a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality”, James said in a news conference. “For these years of fraud and misconduct we are seeking an order to dissolve the NRA in its entirety.”
New York’s lawsuit, filed in state court in Manhattan, is a civil complaint, but James said the investigation was continuing and she expected criminal referrals would be made if warranted by evidence.
The NRA is the largest organisation of gun owners and for decades has been a powerful supporter of Republican politicians and an effective opponent in the US Congress of Democrat-backed gun control proposals.
The association responded in a series of tweets calling the suit “a transparent attempt to score political points and attack the leading voice in opposition to the leftist agenda”.
(1/3) NRA PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO NY AG:This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend. You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as…
— NRA (@NRA) August 6, 2020
With headquarters in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, the NRA is a non-profit organisation incorporated in New York state. Attorney General James began investigating the NRA more than a year ago when accusations surfaced about the misuse of donor funds by NRA president LaPierre.
The lawsuit, filed in state court in Manhattan after an 18-month investigation, highlighted misspending and self-dealing allegations that have roiled the NRA and its longtime leader LaPierre, in recent years – from hair and makeup for his wife to a $17m post-employment contract for himself.
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA chief executive officer, is accused of the misuse of millions of dollars in donor funds [File: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg]
Simultaneously, the Washington, DC, attorney general sued the NRA Foundation, a charitable arm of the organisation designed to provide programmes for firearm safety, marksmanship and hunting safety, accusing it of diverting funds to the NRA to help pay for lavish spending by its top executives.
The troubles, which James said were long cloaked by loyal lieutenants and a pass-through payment arrangement with a vendor, started to come to light as the NRA’s deficit piled up and it struggled to find its footing after a spate of mass shootings in the US eroded support for its pro-gun agenda. The organisation went from a nearly $28m surplus in 2015 to a $36m deficit in 2018.
On hearing of the lawsuit President Donald Trump said on Thursday, “It’s a very terrible thing that just happened. I think the NRA should move to Texas and lead a very good and beautiful life. This has been going on for a long time. They’ve been absolutely decimated by the cost of that lawsuit. And it’s very sad.”
James, a Democrat, argued that the organisation’s prominence and cosy political relationships had lulled it into a sense of invincibility and enabled a culture where nonprofit rules were routinely flouted and state and federal laws were violated.
Even the NRA’s bylaws and employee handbook were ignored, she said.
“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organisation went unchecked for decades while top executives funnelled millions into their own pockets,” James said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organisation is above the law.”
A spokesman for the NRA’s legal team had no immediate comment, according to the Reuters news agency.
In addition to LaPierre, the New York lawsuit names NRA executives chief of staff Wilson Phillips, general counsel John Frazer and operations director Joshua Powell as defendants.
James is taking aim at the NRA after her office last year dismantled President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation and fined him $2m to settle allegations he used donations meant for worthy causes to further his own business and political interests.
Algeria seeks apology from France over colonial past: President |NationalTribune.com
President Tebboune believes that with President Macron, the two countries can go further in the appeasement process [File: AFP] Algeria is waiting for an apology for France’s colonial occupation of the North African country, the president said, expressing hope that French President Emmanuel Macron would build on recent conciliatory overtures. A global re-examination of the…
President Tebboune believes that with President Macron, the two countries can go further in the appeasement process [File: AFP]
Algeria is waiting for an apology for France’s colonial occupation of the North African country, the president said, expressing hope that French President Emmanuel Macron would build on recent conciliatory overtures.
A global re-examination of the legacy of colonialism has been unleashed by the May killing of unarmed African American George Floyd by a white police officer, which sparked mass protests around the world.
“We have already had half-apologies. The next step is needed… we await it,” President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said on Saturday in an interview with news channel France 24.
“I believe that with President Macron, we can go further in the appeasement process … he is a very honest man, who wants to improve the situation.”
France’s 132 years of colonial rule in Algeria and the brutal eight-year war that ended it, have left a legacy of often prickly relations between the two countries.
Belgium king expresses ‘deepest regrets’ over Africa colonialism
In what has been seen as a thaw in ties, Algeria on Friday received the skulls of 24 resistance fighters decapitated during the colonial period.
The skulls will be laid to rest in the martyrs’ section of the capital’s El Alia cemetery on Sunday – the 58th anniversary of Algeria’s independence – according to media reports.
Tebboune said an apology from France would “make it possible to cool tensions and create a calmer atmosphere for economic and cultural relations,” especially for the more than six million Algerians living in France.
In December 2019, Macron said “colonialism was a grave mistake” and called for turning the page on the past.
During his presidential election campaign, he had created a storm by calling France’s colonisation of Algeria a “crime against humanity”.
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to make amends for “centuries of violence and discrimination”.
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