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Supreme Court Lawyer on Tax Return Rulings: ‘If I’m Donald Trump, I’m Scared Right Now’


WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters following a briefing from officials about Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office at the White House September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump was briefed by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz and Deputy Assistant to the President and Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor Peter Brown

After the U.S. Supreme Court issued a pair of 7-2 decisions in high-profile cases on President Donald Trump’s tax returns, the prevailing consensus among legal experts was that the rulings were a mixed bag: the High Court reaffirmed that no one—including the president—is above the law, but also shielded Trump from potential political damage in the here and now, and likely until after the 2020 election. But Supreme Court litigator Neal Katyal argued Thursday that those takes were off the mark.

Appearing on MSNBC, Katyal said the prevailing notion that the president had weathered the storm surrounding his financial documents was wrong.

“I’ve been listening to our reporting for the last half hour and I love my MSNBC colleagues and analysts, but I profoundly disagree with almost everything that’s been said. This is not a ‘mixed bag’ or a victory for Trump. Trump shouldn’t be happy about this. The fact is he lost,” Katyal said, responding to NBC News’s Pete Williams.

The former acting U.S. Solicitor General then addressed the perception that the cases, Trump v. Vance and Trump v. Mazars, being returned to the lower courts meant that the proceedings would be tied up in litigation until well after the 2020 election.

“Look, these cases can move very quickly. The Nixon tapes case moved in a matter of three months; Bush v. Gore, start to finish – the election dispute of 2000 – 36 days. This is all about the election of 2020, and I expect Cy Vance to move incredibly fast,” he said, adding that Trump’s remaining legal defenses in the case are nothing more than a “paper-thin shield at best.”

Katyal concluded by discussing the his view of potential timeline leading up to the November elections.

“I think it’s totally possible for all of this to come out before the 2020 election in terms of New York’s prosecutors getting this information and acting on it,” he said. “So I would caution all those folks who have been listening to this for the last half hour and say, ‘This is a mixed bag.’ It is not. If I’m Donald Trump, I am scared right now. Whether or not it comes before or after the 2020 election, Cy Vance is going to get this material, and it looks pretty damaging to Donald Trump.”

Later in the day, Katyal described the court’s decisions as “scary for Trump,” suggesting it was going to be “easy for courts to decide the New York case, particularly since the SCOTUS opinion today leaves Trump with very little left to say.”

Former federal prosecutor and Law&Crime legal analyst Gene Rossi concurred with Katyal’s take.

“I fully agree with the brilliant [Katyal],” Rossi wrote. “The two tax and financial cases are not wins by any means for President Trump. The SCOTUS essentially said the Emperor has no clothes. And he is crowing because he found a tiny four-leaf legal clover to cover himself?”

Former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst Joyce White Vance sided with Katyal’s take this was a clear loss for the president, particularly when you consider that Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch ruled against the president’s arguments of absolute immunity.

[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.