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Justice Roberts’ Drone Strike on George Washington’s Legacy

Chief Justice John Roberts cloaked his radical opinion granting Presidents broad immunity in the Farewell Address of George Washington, normally celebrated as the codification of the peaceful cession of power, the humility of the role of the President.

Our first President had such a perspective. In his Farewell Address, George Washington reminded the Nation that “a Government of as much vigour as is consistent with the perfect security of Liberty is indispensable.” 35 Writings of George Washington 226 (J. Fitzpatrick ed. 1940). A government “too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction,” he warned, could lead to the “frightful despotism” of “alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge.” Id., at 226–227. And the way to avoid that cycle, he explained, was to ensure that government powers remained “properly distributed and adjusted.” Id., at 226.

It is these enduring principles that guide our decision in this case.

But Roberts instead focuses on Washington’s warning against factionalism — and from there, to a claim to honor separation of powers.

Never mind that, as Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson notes, Roberts’ opinion instead radically altered the balance of powers, which (adopting Washington’s logic) will arguably feed factionalism.

It is important to note that the majority reframes the immunity question presented here as a separation of powers concern that is compelled by Article II—as if what is being asked is whether Congress can criminalize executive prerogatives. See, e.g., ante, at 6–7; see also ante, at 1– 2 (BARRETT, J., concurring in part). But that is not anywhere close to what is happening in this case. No one maintains that Congress has passed a law that specifically criminalizes the President’s use of any power that the Constitution vests exclusively in the Executive, much less that the Judiciary is being conscripted to adjudicate the propriety of such a statute. To the contrary, the indictment here invokes criminal statutes of general applicability that everyone is supposed to follow, both on and off the job. So, the real question is: Can the President, too, be held accountable for committing crimes while he is undertaking his official duties? The nature of his authority under Article II (whether conclusive and preclusive, or shared with Congress, or otherwise) is entirely beside the point.

Plus, by my read, the only separation of powers that Roberts really cares about is that between one Executive and his successor. Roberts is, in actuality, usurping the Article II authority of DOJ to prosecute crimes exclusively in the case of a former President, adopting that power to the judiciary.

Roberts’ opinion does that even while it permits the sitting President to use the trappings of DOJ against everyone but his predecessor, with personal presidential involvement. All the abuses of the Trump DOJ? The revenge prosecution of Greg Craig, Michael Sussmann, and Igor Danchenko? All cool with John Roberts. The use of DOJ resources to have an FBI informant frame Joe Biden? Still totally cool. Not revenge. Just the President doing what he’s empowered to do.

But it’s that more cherished precedent Washington set, of the transfer of power rather than kings, that Roberts has done real violence to.

Consider what happened to Blassingame — the DC Circuit opinion holding that a former President can be sued for actions taken in his role as candidate for office — in this opinion.

Blassingame was mentioned repeatedly in the argument of this case, 16 times, often when a Republican who joined Roberts’ opinion today queried John Sauer if he agreed with it.

It came up when Clarence Thomas asked whether Sauer accepted the function of a candidate to be a private act — with which he mostly agreed and then backtracked somewhat.

JUSTICE THOMAS: Mr. Sauer, in assessing the official acts of a president, do you differentiate between the president acting as president and the president acting as candidate?

MR. SAUER: Yes, we do. And we don’t dispute essentially the Blassingame discussion of that.

JUSTICE THOMAS: Okay. Now —

MR. SAUER: But, of course, that has to be done by objective determinations, not by looking at what was the purpose of what you did this, and that’s the most important point there.

It came up when Neil Gorsuch queried Sauer about it (in which case Sauer adopted former Trump White House Counsel Greg Katsas’ more narrow holding on it).

JUSTICE GORSUCH: And then the question becomes, as we’ve been exploring here today a little bit, about how to segregate private from official conduct that may or may not enjoy some immunity, and we — I’m sure we’re going to spend a lot of time exploring that. But the D.C. Circuit in Blassingame, the chief judge there, joined by the panel, expressed some views about how to segregate private conduct for which no man is above the law from official acts. Do you have any thoughts about the test that they came up with there?

MR. SAUER: Yes. We think, in the main, that test, especially if it’s understood through the lens of Judge Katsas’ separate opinion, is a very persuasive test. It would be a great source for this Court to rely on in drawing this line. And it emphasizes the breadth of that test. It talks about how actions that are, you know, plausibly connected to the president’s official duties are official acts. And it also emphasizes that if it’s a close case or it appears there’s considerations on the other side, that also should be treated as immune. Those are the — the aspects of that that we’d emphasize as potentially guiding the Court’s discretion.

Gorsuch would go on to question Dreeben about Blassingame at length.

It came up when John Kavanaugh invited Sauer to rewrite Blassingame, and Sauer largely declined.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: Where — where do you think the D.C. Circuit went wrong in how it determined what was official versus what’s personal?

MR. SAUER: Well, I read — I read the opinion below in this particular case as adopting a categorical view. It does not matter, is the logic of their — their opinion because there is no immunity for official acts and, therefore, you know, that’s the end of the story. I don’t really think they went wrong in Blassingame in the civil context when they engaged in the same determination with respect to what’s official and what isn’t official. There, we agree with most of what that opinion said.

And it came up when Sammy Alito asked John Sauer if he’d like an order saying that the President was immune unless there was no possible justification, in which case Sauer raised Blassingame, and Alito shifted from analysis of official and unofficial.

JUSTICE ALITO: But what if it were not — what if it did not involve any subjective element, it was purely objective? You would look objectively at the various relevant factors? MR. SAUER: That sounds to me a lot like Blassingame and especially viewed through the lens of Judge Katsas’ separate opinion, and that may not be different than what we’re proposing to the Court today.

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, Blassingame had to do with the difference between official conduct and private conduct, right?

MR. SAUER: That’s correct. I — I understood the Court to be asking that.

JUSTICE ALITO: No. This — this would apply — and it’s just a possibility. I don’t know whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea or whether it can be derived from the structure of the Constitution or the Vesting Clause or any other source. But this would be applied in a purely objective — on purely objective grounds when the president invokes an official power in taking the action that is at issue?

MR. SAUER: Yes, I believe — the reason I think of Blassingame is because it talks about an objective context-specific determination to winnow out what’s official and what is purely private conduct, and, again, in a — with a strong degree of deference to what — and, therefore, you know, that’s the end of the story. I don’t really think they went wrong in Blassingame in the civil context when they engaged in the same determination with respect to what’s official and what isn’t official. There, we agree with most of what that opinion said.

You might be justified in thinking that Blassingame would be central to today’s ruling, not least because the charged crimes are the same ones as the complaints alleged in Blassingame.

The central holding of Blassingame, however, is gone.

Blassingame appears just three times in the opinion rendered today. Roberts uses it as a limiting factor.

But the breadth of the President’s “discretionary responsibilities” under the Constitution and laws of the United States “in a broad variety of areas, many of them highly sensitive,” frequently makes it “difficult to determine which of [his] innumerable ‘functions’ encompassed a particular action.” Id., at 756. And some Presidential conduct—for example, speaking to and on behalf of the American people, see Trump v. Hawaii, 585 U. S. 667, 701 (2018)—certainly can qualify as official even when not obviously connected to a particular constitutional or statutory provision. For those reasons, the immunity we have recognized extends to the “outer perimeter” of the President’s official responsibilities, covering actions so long as they are “not manifestly or palpably beyond [his] authority.” Blassingame v. Trump, 87

Sonia Sotomayor notes that Roberts has used it as a limiting factor, then notes he has also eliminated any analysis of motive.

In fact, the majority’s dividing line between “official” and “unofficial” conduct narrows the conduct considered “unofficial” almost to a nullity. It says that whenever the President acts in a way that is “‘not manifestly or palpably beyond [his] authority,’” he is taking official action. Ante, at 17 (quoting Blassingame v. Trump, 87 F. 4th 1, 13 (CADC 2023)). It then goes a step further: “In dividing official from unofficial conduct, courts may not inquire into the President’s motives.” Ante, at 18.

Jackson makes a similar observation.

At most, to distinguish official from unofficial conduct, the majority advises asking whether the former President’s conduct was “‘manifestly or palpably beyond [his] authority.’” Ante, at 17 (quoting Blassingame v. Trump, 87 F. 4th 1, 13 (CADC 2023)).

There’s not even much discussion of Trump’s role as a candidate! Roberts raises it, and then says Trump’s electioneering tweets might serve some other purpose.

There may, however, be contexts in which the President, notwithstanding the prominence of his position, speaks in an unofficial capacity—perhaps as a candidate for office or party leader. To the extent that may be the case, objective analysis of “content, form, and context” will necessarily inform the inquiry. Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U. S. 443, 453 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). But “there is not always a clear line between [the President’s] personal and official affairs.” Mazars, 591 U. S., at 868. The analysis therefore must be fact specific and may prove to be challenging.

The indictment reflects these challenges. It includes only select Tweets and brief snippets of the speech Trump delivered on the morning of January 6, omitting its full text or context. See App. 228–230, Indictment ¶104. Whether the Tweets, that speech, and Trump’s other communications on January 6 involve official conduct may depend on the content and context of each. Knowing, for instance, what else was said contemporaneous to the excerpted communications, or who was involved in transmitting the electronic communications and in organizing the rally, could be relevant to the classification of each communication.

In ruling (unsurprisingly) that the Jeffrey Clark allegations have to be thrown out, Roberts goes further, and reads the Executive Branch interest in policing election crime to extend to making false claims about the election.

The Government does not dispute that the indictment’s allegations regarding the Justice Department involve Trump’s “use of official power.” Brief for United States 46; see id., at 10–11; Tr. of Oral Arg. 125. The allegations in fact plainly implicate Trump’s “conclusive and preclusive” authority. “[I]nvestigation and prosecution of crimes is a quintessentially executive function.” Brief for United States 19 (quoting Morrison v. Olson, 487 U. S. 654, 706 (1988) (Scalia, J., dissenting)). And the Executive Branch has “exclusive authority and absolute discretion” to decide which crimes to investigate and prosecute, including with respect to allegations of election crime. Nixon, 418 U. S., at 693; see United States v. Texas, 599 U. S. 670, 678–679 (2023) (“Under Article II, the Executive Branch possesses authority to decide ‘how to prioritize and how aggressively to pursue legal actions against defendants who violate the law.’” (quoting TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, 594 U. S. 413, 429 (2021))). The President may discuss potential investigations and prosecutions with his Attorney General and other Justice Department officials to carry out his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Art. II, §3. And the Attorney General, as head of the Justice Department, acts as the President’s “chief law enforcement officer” who “provides vital assistance to [him] in the performance of [his] constitutional duty to ‘preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.’” Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U. S. 511, 520 (1985) (quoting Art. II, §1, cl. 8)

And when entertaining Trump’s claims that his interference in state and congress’ role were just an effort to protect the integrity of the election, Roberts thumbs both the scale and the facts again, using the Take Care clause as a shield rather than the sword that Judge Karen Henderson viewed it as.

On Trump’s view, the alleged conduct qualifies as official because it was undertaken to ensure the integrity and proper administration of the federal election. Of course, the President’s duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” plainly encompasses enforcement of federal election laws passed by Congress. Art. II, §3. And the President’s broad power to speak on matters of public concern does not exclude his public communications regarding the fairness and integrity of federal elections simply because he is running for re-election. Cf. Hawaii, 585 U. S., at 701. Similarly, the President may speak on and discuss such matters with state officials—even when no specific federal responsibility requires his communication—to encourage them to act in a manner that promotes the President’s view of the public good.

Even when conceding that Trump was pressuring Mike Pence as President of the Senate, not as his Vice President, when he was threatening to have him assassinated, Roberts suggests this is a close call, because Trump has to be able to pressure the President of the Senate to get legislation passed.

The question then becomes whether that presumption of immunity is rebutted under the circumstances. When the Vice President presides over the January 6 certification proceeding, he does so in his capacity as President of the Senate. Ibid. Despite the Vice President’s expansive role of advising and assisting the President within the Executive Branch, the Vice President’s Article I responsibility of “presiding over the Senate” is “not an ‘executive branch’ function.” Memorandum from L. Silberman, Deputy Atty. Gen., to R. Burress, Office of the President, Re: Conflict of Interest Problems Arising Out of the President’s Nomination of Nelson A. Rockefeller To Be Vice President Under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution 2 (Aug. 28, 1974). With respect to the certification proceeding in particular, Congress has legislated extensively to define the Vice President’s role in the counting of the electoral votes, see, e.g., 3 U. S. C. §15, and the President plays no direct constitutional or statutory role in that process. So the Government may argue that consideration of the President’s communications with the Vice President concerning the certification proceeding does not pose “dangers of intrusion on the authority and functions of the Executive Branch.” Fitzgerald, 457 U. S., at 754; see supra, at 14.

At the same time, however, the President may frequently rely on the Vice President in his capacity as President of the Senate to advance the President’s agenda in Congress. When the Senate is closely divided, for instance, the Vice President’s tiebreaking vote may be crucial for confirming the President’s nominees and passing laws that align with the President’s policies. Applying a criminal prohibition to the President’s conversations discussing such matters with the Vice President—even though they concern his role as President of the Senate—may well hinder the President’s ability to perform his constitutional functions.

It is ultimately the Government’s burden to rebut the presumption of immunity. We therefore remand to the District Court to assess in the first instance, with appropriate input from the parties, whether a prosecution involving Trump’s alleged attempts to influence the Vice President’s oversight of the certification proceeding in his capacity as President of the Senate would pose any dangers of intrusion on the authority and functions of the Executive Branch.

Over and over again, then, Roberts has applied his new standard — whether anything might conceivably intrude on the functions of the Presidency — to immunize usurping Congress’ (and states’) role in certifying the election.

What John Roberts has done — at least preliminarily — is carve out an Executive authority so broad that in every area where the President is explicitly excluded, even in the role of candidate-for-President, the President can still act with absolute immunity.

That authorizes the President to use all the powers of the Presidency to win re-election — precisely the opposite holding of what Blassingame adopted.

In an opinion that tries to cloak his power grab with an appeal to President Washington, John Roberts has suffocated the greatest thing Washington gave the United States, the presumption that Presidential powers would cede to the power of elections.

Jack Smith’s Way Forward

I’m going to write a long post on how John Roberts made elections subservient to the President.

But first, I want to lay out a way forward for Jack Smith. I’ll return to a way forward for Biden.

First: SCOTUS has remanded this case to Judge Chutkan to determine which of the charges can be sustained as unofficial acts. As I’ll lay out, I think they’ve put their thumb on the scale that none of them can be. But by all means, she is now required to spend the next four months figuring that out.

So if I’m Jack Smith, I ask her to block out her time for the foreseeable future to do just that.

Because the President cannot be prosecuted for anything considered a core Presidential act, like bribing Roger Stone with pardons, Jack Smith should issue a report of what Trump did with his core official acts.

Nothing in this opinion prohibits Jack Smith from prosecuting everyone else (save Trump’s closest aides and Jeffrey Clark). So Jack Smith should roll out any and all indictments for Trump’s associates that would otherwise have been introduced in his case in chief.

Trump’s Other Immunity Claim: Stealing Boxes and Boxes of Classified Documents

Whatever else the SCOTUS grant of Trump’s immunity claim did, it provided the basis for scheduling clarity.

It seems likely SCOTUS has committed to deciding the immunity question by the end of term, in June.

That would present Tanya Chutkan with the decision of whether to try the January 6 case during the election season (it is her choice, not DOJ’s to make). She had been entertaining starting the trial in August, which would have bled into election season as it is, so she may decide to do this. If she does, it is unlikely a jury would reach a verdict before election day, but the trial would give voters opportunity to see the evidence before voting.

The decision to grant cert is as interesting for Trump’s other immunity claim — Trump’s even more frivolous claim that he can’t be prosecuted for stealing boxes and boxes of classified documents because his claimed decision to convert those government documents to his personal possession in violation of the Presidential Records Act is immune from prosecution, as well. I’ve seen some commentary that SCOTUS may have been trying to come up with a different solution but then decided to hear the case. If that’s true, the decision to hear the case came less than a week after Trump made that other claim of immunity, that he can steal classified documents with impunity. Who knows? It’s not before the court, but it may have affected their decision to hear the case.

The matter will be fully briefed by the time Jack Smith submits his brief to SCOTUS on April 8. So he can have two absurd claims of immunity to address, Trump’s claim he can steal the election with impunity, and Trump’s claim he can convert boxes and boxes of classified documents to do with as he pleases on the way out the door even if it violates the Presidential Records Act, a law passed specifically to apply to Presidents. One of the matters that had been hypothetical before the DC Circuit — that Trump might sell nuclear documents to our adversaries — has become concrete.

Given the question as posed by SCOTUS — Whether and if so to what extent does a former President enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office? — I think SCOTUS may have been uncomfortable with the DC Circuit’s thin treatment of Trump’s argument that, without immunity, former Presidents could be prosecuted for things like approving the drone strike on Anwar al-Awlaki (note, when Trump raises this, he never mentions that he himself killed Awlaki’s daughter).

Former President Trump argues that criminal liability for former Presidents risks chilling Presidential action while in office and opening the floodgates to meritless and harassing prosecution. These risks do not overcome “the public interest in fair and accurate judicial proceedings,” which “is at its height in the criminal setting.” Vance, 140 S. Ct. at 2424.

Former President Trump first asserts that the prospect of potential post-Presidency criminal liability would inhibit a sitting President’s ability to act “fearlessly and impartially,” citing the “especially sensitive duties” of the President and the need for “bold and unhesitating action.”

There has to be something that distinguishes such actions from those charged against Trump. That something is likely the conversion of the Presidency to one’s own personal benefit. It’s not in the DC Circuit opinion and needs to be — all the more so given that, in Florida, Trump is claiming that he could legally simply convert boxes and boxes of classified documents to his personal property, even though the Presidential Records Act prohibits it.

It’s not in the DC Circuit opinion. But something like that has to be, some measure to distinguish the ordinary unlawful stuff Presidents are asked to authorize on behalf of the country and the venal stuff Trump did to benefit himself.

Tomorrow, Judge Cannon will hold a hearing to discuss how to schedule that trial. Her original schedule included six months of things after pretrial motions, which would put her schedule at September as well (though she’s obviously more likely to stall until after the election). But one thing she can expect is that, by June, Trump’s immunity claim will be resolved.

Update: Here’s the language from Trump’s brief that addresses this problem.

The panel opinion ignores the long history of real-world examples of Presidents engaging in actual behavior that political opponents viewed as egregious and “criminal.” Instead, keying on the Special Counsel’s arguments, the panel fretted about lurid hypotheticals that have never occurred in 234 years of history, almost certainly never will occur, and would virtually certainly result in impeachment and Senate conviction (thus authorizing criminal prosecution) if they did occur—such as a hypothetical President corruptly ordering the assassination of political rivals through “SEAL Team Six.” D.C. Cir. Oral Arg Tr. 10:19-21. Such hypotheticals provide fodder for histrionic media coverage, but they are a poor substitute for legal and historical analysis. Confronted with real-world hypotheticals—such as President Obama’s killing of U.S. citizens by drone strike—the Special Counsel conceded below that Presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts likely exists and would apply, directly contradicting the “categorical,” App’x 20A, holdings to the contrary of both the appellate panel and the trial court. D.C. Cir. Oral Arg Tr. 49:18-22 (Special Counsel admitting that a “drone strike” where “civilians were killed … might be the kind of place in which the Court would properly recognize some kind of immunity”). Further, the logical presupposition of such speculative hypotheticals—i.e., that the Founders supposedly must have intended that no alleged Presidential misdeed could ever escape prosecution—is plainly incorrect and contradicts the basic premises of a system of separated powers. “While the separation of powers may prevent us from righting every wrong, it does so in order to ensure that we do not lose liberty.” Morrison, 487 U.S. at 710 (Scalia, J., dissenting).

Jack Smith’s response doesn’t really deal with this issue in depth.

7 A sufficient basis for resolving this case would be that, whatever the rule in other contexts not presented here, no immunity attaches to a President’s commission of federal crimes to subvert the electoral process. See Amici Br. of John Danforth et al., at 7. The court of appeals’ analysis was “specific” to the allegations that applicant conspired to “overturn federal election results and unlawfully overstay his Presidential term,” Appl. App. 31A, and a stay can be denied on that basis alone, leaving for another day whether any immunity from criminal prosecution should be recognized in any circumstances. See Gov’t C.A. Br. 45-49 (explaining that foreign affairs are not implicated in this case); cf. Nixon, 418 U.S. at 707, 710, 712 n.19 (reserving whether an absolute presidential-communications privilege might exist for military, diplomatic, or national security secrets).

Supreme Court to Hear Trump Immunity Claim on April 22

The order is here.

The application for a stay presented to The Chief Justice is referred by him to the Court. The Special Counsel’s request to treat the stay application as a petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, and that petition is granted limited to the following question: Whether and if so to what extent does a former President enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office. Without expressing a view on the merits, this Court directs the Court of Appeals to continue withholding issuance of the mandate until the sending down of the judgment of this Court. The application for a stay is dismissed as moot.

The case will be set for oral argument during the week of April 22, 2024. Petitioner’s brief on the merits, and any amicus curiae briefs in support or in support of neither party, are to be filed on or before Tuesday, March 19, 2024. Respondent’s brief on the merits, and any amicus curiae briefs in support, are to be filed on or before Monday, April 8, 2024. The reply brief, if any, is to be filed on or before 5 p.m., Monday, April 15, 2024.

This is sub-optimal, insofar as I had hoped they would rule quickly. Perhaps Trump’s immunity claim in Florida changed that?

Nevertheless, we should get an order in June, and so possibly a trial starting in late August?

DC Circuit: Go Big and [in a Footnote] Go Blassingame!

Note: Our discussion of the decision starts after 10 minutes.

During the entire month we’ve been waiting for a DC Circuit ruling on Trump’s immunity claim, I have argued we’d be better off with an opinion for which SCOTUS was likely to deny cert than a decision in which a — say — Judge Karen Henderson concurrence offered surface area for Justices to claw out review.

Before I explain why there’s a good shot that this opinion was worth the wait, let me review how SCOTUS came to uphold a Judge Chutkan opinion chipping away at Trump’s Executive Privilege claims for January 6. In that case, Trump was trying to prevent the Archives from sharing presidential documents with the January 6 Committee; because he was seeking to prevent something, it was actually easier to make appeals go faster. The appeals were resolved in 74 days:

  • On November 9, 2021, Judge Chutkan rejected Trump’s attempt to enjoin the Archives from sharing his papers
  • On November 30, a DC Circuit panel of three Democratic appointees heard his case; on December 9, the Circuit issued an opinion from Patricia Millet upholding Judge Chutkan
  • On January 22, 2022, with only a dissent from Clarence Thomas, SCOTUS upheld the DC Circuit opinion; Justice Kavanaugh noted that, even if a more stringent standard were applied, Trump’s claim would still fail

This appeal has taken 67 days thus far:

  • On December 1, Judge Chutkan, waiting less than 12 hours after the long-delayed issuance of an opinion in Blassingame holding that former Presidents are not immune from lawsuit when in the role of office-seeker, issued her ruling rejecting Trump’s immunity claim
  • A bipartisan panel — Karen Henderson, Florence Pan, and Michelle Childs — heard Trump’s appeal on January 9
  • The panel issued a strong per curiam opinion on February 6

In recent weeks, I had shown where there seemed to be disagreement on that panel, disagreements that are all resolved in the opinion.

Posture

Let’s start with the last one, what I called posture. Judge Henderson had originally not favored an expedited review. This order forces Trump into an expedited appeals process.

The Clerk is directed to withhold issuance of the mandate through February 12, 2024. If, within that period, Appellant notifies the Clerk in writing that he has filed an application with the Supreme Court for a stay of the mandate pending the filing of a petition for a writ of certiorari, the Clerk is directed to withhold issuance of the mandate pending the Supreme Court’s final disposition of the application. The filing of a petition for rehearing or rehearing en banc will not result in any withholding of the mandate, although the grant of rehearing or rehearing en banc would result in a recall of the mandate if the mandate has already issued.

The only way he can stop Judge Chutkan from issuing opinions on the remaining motions to dismiss filed last fall is if he immediately appeals to SCOTUS for a stay pending appeal, which he has already said he’d done. The only way he can get that stay is if five Justices say they think Trump will succeed on the merits and vote to grant the stay.

Steve Vladeck says that SCOTUS has a lot of options, but the two most likely are to deny the stay or to grant an appeal in this term, committing to an opinion by June.

Jurisdiction

At least by my read in the table, the one reason Pan and Childs couldn’t write their own opinion without Henderson was because Childs was much more cautious about whether the Circuit even had jurisdiction.

Nine pages of the opinion treat that question. It adopts two suggestions from Jack Smith’s prosecutor James Pearce. Most notably, it notes that SCOTUS has repeatedly given [former] Presidents get immediate appeals.

Nor was the question presented in Midland Asphalt anything like the one before us. Procedural rules are worlds different from a former President’s asserted immunity from federal criminal liability. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that the President is sui generis. In the civil context, the Court has held that the denial of the President’s assertion of absolute immunity is immediately appealable “[i]n light of the special solicitude due to claims alleging a threatened breach of essential Presidential prerogatives under the separation of powers.” Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. at 743. And in United States v. Nixon, the Court waived the typical requirement that the President risk contempt before appealing because it would be “unseemly” to require the President to do so “merely to trigger the procedural mechanism for review of the ruling.” 418 U.S. 683, 691–92 (1974). It would be equally “unseemly” for us to require that former President Trump first be tried in order to secure review of his immunity claim after final judgment.

Trump did not contest jurisdiction here, so it’s unlikely to be something that SCOTUS pursues (and if they did, then it would get bumped back to Chutkan for trial).

Go Big and [in a Footnote] Go Blassingame

Finally, I noted that Judge Henderson seemed to have concerns about the scope of their decision — what she described “floodgates” of follow-on charges. She at least considered the wisdom of limiting this opinion to a former President’s unofficial acts — in this case, defined as those of an office-seeker under Blassingame.

Rather than going Blassingame, though, the panel’s top line holding went Big.

The operative language in this opinion rejects the notion of Presidential immunity categorically as a violation of separation of powers.

At bottom, former President Trump’s stance would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches. Presidential immunity against federal indictment would mean that, as to the President, the Congress could not legislate, the Executive could not prosecute and the Judiciary could not review. We cannot accept that the office of the Presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter. Careful evaluation of these concerns leads us to conclude that there is no functional justification for immunizing former Presidents from federal prosecution in general or for immunizing former President Trump from the specific charges in the Indictment. In so holding, we act, “not in derogation of the separation of powers, but to maintain their proper balance.” See Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. at 754. [my emphasis]

Even in that sweeping language, though, the opinion addresses the question of presidential immunity generally and specifically, as to the charges in the indictment.

The import of this move in resolving any disagreement on the panel is more clear elsewhere.

Perhaps most importantly, footnote 14, does something that Judge Chutkan also did. It said that because they reject the notion of categorical immunity, they don’t have to review whether the alleged crimes are official acts.

14 Because we conclude that former President Trump is not entitled to categorical immunity from criminal liability for assertedly “official” acts, it is unnecessary to explore whether executive immunity, if it applied here, would encompass his expansive definition of “official acts.” Nevertheless, we observe that his position appears to conflict with our recent decision in Blassingame, 87 F.4th at 1. According to the former President, any actions he took in his role as President should be considered “official,” including all the conduct alleged in the Indictment. Appellant’s Br. 41–42. But in Blassingame, taking the plaintiff’s allegations as true, we held that a President’s “actions constituting re-election campaign activity” are not “official” and can form the basis for civil liability. 87 F.4th at 17. In other words, if a President who is running for re-election acts “as office-seeker, not office-holder,” he is not immune even from civil suits. Id. at 4 (emphasis in original). Because the President has no official role in the certification of the Electoral College vote, much of the misconduct alleged in the Indictment reasonably can be viewed as that of an office-seeker — including allegedly organizing alternative slates of electors and attempting to pressure the Vice President and Members of the Congress to accept those electors in the certification proceeding. It is thus doubtful that “all five types of conduct alleged in the indictment constitute official acts.” Appellant’s Br. 42. [my empahsis]

But they say if they did have to review whether the indictment charged Trump for official acts, the fact that so many of the alleged acts in the indictment pertain to Trump’s role as an office-seeker, and because Presidents have no role in election certifications, the indictment would survive that more particular review anyway.

This is the kind of out that Justice Kavanaugh took on a related issue, whether the interests of Congress in reviewing an attack on the election certification preempted any Executive Privilege claims.

That is, both the District and Circuit have already said that, if they were asked to consider whether this indictment withstands an immunity claim, it substantially would.

I have no idea what SCOTUS will do. But by producing a unanimous opinion with little surface area for Justices to grab hold, Judges Henderson, Pan, and Childs may have ended up producing the most expeditious result.

DC Circuit Upholds Judge Chutkan’s Immunity Decision

The opinion is here. They’ve also issued the mandate on a tight clock.

Today, we affirm the denial. For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.

They did use collateral order doctrine to establish jurisdiction.

Although both parties agree that the Court has jurisdiction over former President Trump’s appeal, amicus curiae American Oversight raises a threshold question about our collateral-order jurisdiction. In every case, “we must assure ourselves of our jurisdiction.” In re Brewer, 863 F.3d 861, 868 (D.C. Cir. 2017). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, which grants us jurisdiction over “final decisions of the district courts,” id., “we ordinarily do not have jurisdiction to hear a defendant’s appeal in a criminal case prior to conviction and sentencing,” United States v. Andrews, 146 F.3d 933, 936 (D.C. Cir. 1998). The collateral-order doctrine, however, treats as final and thus allows us to exercise appellate jurisdiction over “a small class of [interlocutory] decisions that conclusively determine the disputed question, resolve an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and are effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment.” Citizens for Resp. & Ethics in Wash. v. Dep’t of Homeland Sec., 532 F.3d 860, 864 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (cleaned up). The district court’s denial of former President Trump’s immunity defense unquestionably satisfies the first two requirements and thus we focus our analysis on the third: whether the denial of immunity is effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment.

Here’s how the opinion dealt with Trump’s Marbury argument. This language would have come from Judge Henderson (the opinion clearly has a lot of input from all three).

We therefore conclude that Article III courts may hear the charges alleged in the Indictment under the separation of powers doctrine, as explained in Marbury and its progeny and applied in the analogous contexts of legislative and judicial immunity. The Indictment charges that former President Trump violated criminal laws of general applicability. Acting against laws enacted by the Congress, he exercised power that was at its “lowest ebb.” Youngstown, 343 U.S. at 637 (Jackson, J., concurring). Former President Trump lacked any lawful discretionary authority to defy federal criminal law and he is answerable in court for his conduct.

This part of the ruling could be seen as limiting it to Blassingame.

We note at the outset that our analysis is specific to the case before us, in which a former President has been indicted on federal criminal charges arising from his alleged conspiracy to overturn federal election results and unlawfully overstay his Presidential term.8

8 We do not address policy considerations implicated in the prosecution of a sitting President or in a state prosecution of a President, sitting or former.

The opinion straight up says Trump’s Take Care Clause argument is bunk.

The President, of course, also has a duty under the Take Care Clause to faithfully enforce the laws. This duty encompasses following the legal procedures for determining election results and ensuring that executive power vests in the new President at the constitutionally appointed time. To the extent former President Trump maintains that the post-2020 election litigation that his campaign and supporters unsuccessfully pursued implemented his Take Care duty, he is in error. See infra n.14. Former President Trump’s alleged conduct conflicts with his constitutional mandate to enforce the laws governing the process of electing the new President.

This is an argument that I thought Jack Smith didn’t push enough.

Former President Trump’s alleged efforts to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election were, if proven, an unprecedented assault on the structure of our government. He allegedly injected himself into a process in which the President has no role — the counting and certifying of the Electoral College votes — thereby undermining constitutionally established procedures and the will of the Congress. To immunize former President Trump’s actions would “further . . . aggrandize the presidential office, already so potent and so relatively immune from judicial review, at the expense of Congress.” Youngstown, 343 U.S. at 654 (Jackson, J., concurring) (footnote omitted). As Justice Jackson warned:

Executive power has the advantage of concentration in a single head in whose choice the whole Nation has a part, making him the focus of public hopes and expectations. In drama, magnitude and finality his decisions so far overshadow any others that almost alone he fills the public eye and ear. No other personality in public life can begin to compete with him in access to the public mind through modern methods of communications. By his prestige as head of state and his influence upon public opinion he exerts a leverage upon those who are supposed to check and balance his power which often cancels their effectiveness.

Id. at 653–54 (Jackson, J., concurring).

We cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a President has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power — the recognition and implementation of election results. Nor can we sanction his apparent contention that the Executive has carte blan che to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and to have their votes count.

* * *

At bottom, former President Trump’s stance would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches. Presidential immunity against federal indictment would mean that, as to the President, the Congress could not legislate, the Executive could not prosecute and the Judiciary could not review. We cannot accept that the office of the Presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter. Careful evaluation of these concerns leads us to conclude that there is no functional justification for immunizing former Presidents from federal prosecution in general or for immunizing former President Trump from the specific charges in the Indictment. In so holding, we act, “not in derogation of the separation of powers, but to maintain their proper balance.” See Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. at 754.

This section, turning Trump’s impeachment argument on its head, is the fruit of Florence Pan’s work in the hearing, surgically narrowing and then narrowing still further the issues.

Former President Trump agrees that the Impeachment Judgment Clause contemplates and permits the prosecution of a former President on criminal charges — he argues only that such a former President first must be impeached by the House and “convicted” by the Senate. Appellant’s Br. 12–14, 31. In other words, he asserts that, under the Clause, a former President enjoys immunity for any criminal acts committed while in office unless he is first impeached and convicted by the Congress. Under that theory, he claims that he is immune from prosecution because he was impeached and acquitted. By taking that position, former President Trump potentially narrows the parties’ dispute to whether he may face criminal charges in this case consistent with the Impeachment Judgment Clause: If the Clause requires an impeachment conviction first, he may not be prosecuted; but if it contains no such requirement, the Clause presents no impediment to his prosecution.

Former President Trump also implicitly concedes that there is no absolute bar to prosecuting assertedly “official” actions. He argues elsewhere in his brief that his impeachment on the charge of inciting insurrection was based on conduct that was the “same and closely related” to the “official acts” charged in the Indictment. Appellant’s Br. 46 (“President Trump was impeached and acquitted by the Senate for the same and closely related conduct to that alleged in the indictment.” (emphasis omitted)); id. at 42 (“[A]ll five types of conduct alleged in the indictment constitute official acts.”). And he agrees that if he had been convicted by the Senate in that impeachment trial, he would not be immune from prosecution for the “official acts” at issue here. See id. at 31. Thus, he concedes that a President can be prosecuted for broadly defined “official acts,” such as the ones alleged in the Indictment, under some circumstances, i.e., following an impeachment conviction. [my emphasis]

They note that Trump’s argument about Alexander Hamilton is followed immediately by Hamilton saying that Presidents must be unlike Kings.

To counter the historical evidence that explains the purpose of the Impeachment Judgment Clause, former President Trump turns to one sentence written by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist 69: “The President of the United States would be liable to be impeached, tried, and, upon conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors, removed from office; and would afterwards be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law.” The Federalist No. 69, at 337 (Alexander Hamilton) (Coventry House Publishing, 2015). He focuses on the word “afterwards” and suggests that a President is not “liable to prosecution and punishment” until “after[]” he has been impeached and convicted by the Senate. See Appellant’s Br. 14–15. But we think the more significant word in Hamilton’s statement is “liable,” which means “subject to.” Liable, 1 John Ash, New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1795). Hamilton specifies that a President would be subject to impeachment, trial, conviction and removal from office; and “afterwards” would be subject to prosecution and punishment, without regard to the verdict in the impeachment proceeding. 10 Moreover, in the very next sentence of the same essay, Hamilton stresses that the President must be unlike the “king of Great Britain,” who was “sacred and inviolable.” The Federalist No. 69, at 337–38. It strains credulity that Hamilton would have endorsed a reading of the Impeachment Judgment Clause that shields Presidents from all criminal accountability unless they are first impeached and convicted by the Congress.

The opinion names all the Senators who said they voted against impeachment because Trump was out of office.

Former President Trump’s interpretation also would permit the commission of crimes not readily categorized as impeachable (i.e., as “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”) and, if thirty Senators are correct, crimes not discovered until after a President leaves office. See U.S. CONST. art. II, § 4; see also, e.g., 167 CONG. REC. S736 (daily ed. Feb. 13, 2021) (statement of Senate Minority Leader McConnell) (“We have no power to convict and disqualify a former office holder who is now a private citizen.”). 13

13 See also statements of Senators Barrasso, Blunt, Braun, Capito, Cornyn, Cramer, Crapo, Daines, Ernst, Fischer, Grassley, Hoeven, Hyde-Smith, Inhofe, Kennedy, Lankford, Lee, Lummis, Moran, Portman, Risch, Rounds, Rubio, Shelby, Sullivan, Thune, Tillis, Tuberville and Wicker.

Here’s another section on the import of Blassingame. They’re saying this decision is categorical — that is, there’s no need for analysis of whether these were official acts or not. But because Blassingame already ruled they were not, there’s no need to here.

14 Because we conclude that former President Trump is not entitled to categorical immunity from criminal liability for assertedly “official” acts, it is unnecessary to explore whether executive immunity, if it applied here, would encompass his expansive definition of “official acts.” Nevertheless, we observe that his position appears to conflict with our recent decision in Blassingame, 87 F.4th at 1. According to the former President, any actions he took in his role as President should be considered “official,” including all the conduct alleged in the Indictment. Appellant’s Br. 41–42. But in Blassingame, taking the plaintiff’s allegations as true, we held that a President’s “actions constituting re-election campaign activity” are not “official” and can form the basis for civil liability. 87 F.4th at 17. In other words, if a President who is running for re-election acts “as office-seeker, not office-holder,” he is not immune even from civil suits. Id. at 4 (emphasis in original). Because the President has no official role in the certification of the Electoral College vote, much of the misconduct alleged in the Indictment reasonably can be viewed as that of an office-seeker — including allegedly organizing alternative slates of electors and attempting to pressure the Vice President and Members of the Congress to accept those electors in the certification proceeding. It is thus doubtful that “all five types of conduct alleged in the indictment constitute official acts.” Appellant’s Br. 42.

The opinion does rely, in part, on the fact that Jack Smith didn’t charge incitement to insurrection to dismiss Trump’s double jeopardy claim (I had wondered if Smith would add that charge based on the outcome here).

To the extent former President Trump relies on “double jeopardy principles” beyond the text of the Impeachment Judgment Clause, those principles cut against him. The Double Jeopardy Clause provides: “No person shall . . . be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” U.S. CONST. amend. V. It has been interpreted to prohibit “imposition of multiple criminal punishments for the same offense.” Hudson v. United States, 522 U.S. 93, 99 (1997) (citation omitted). Under precedent interpreting the Double Jeopardy Clause, former President Trump’s impeachment acquittal does not bar his subsequent criminal prosecution for two reasons: (1) An impeachment does not result in criminal punishments; and (2) the Indictment does not charge the same offense as the single count in the Impeachment Resolution.

[snip]

Even if we assume that an impeachment trial is criminal under the Double Jeopardy Clause, the crimes alleged in the Indictment differ from the offense for which President Trump was impeached. In determining whether two charges are the “same” for double-jeopardy purposes, courts apply “the sameelements test” (also known as the “Blockburger test”): If “each offense contains an element not contained in the other,” the offenses are different. United States v. Dixon, 509 U.S. 688, 696 (1993) (citing Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304 (1932)) (cleaned up). If the charges at issue are not the “same offense” under that test, double jeopardy does not bar prosecution. Id. at 696–97.

Under the Blockburger test, none of the four offenses alleged in the Indictment is the same as the sole offense charged in the article of impeachment. The indicted criminal counts include conspiracy to defraud the United States under 18 U.S.C. § 371; conspiracy to obstruct and obstructing an official proceeding under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(c)(2), (k); and conspiracy to deprive one or more individuals of the right to vote under 18 U.S.C. § 241. See Indictment ¶¶ 6, 126, 128, 130. By contrast, the article of impeachment charged former President Trump with incitement of insurrection. See H.R. Res. 24, 117th Cong. (2021). Each of the indicted charges requires proof of an element other than those required for incitement. And the offense of incitement of insurrection requires proof of incitement — an element that is distinct from those associated with each of the crimes of indictment. In other words, the charges are not the same under a straightforward application of the Blockburger test.

[my emphasis]

Judge Karen Henderson’s Floodgate Concerns

While Judge Florence Pan was asking, over and over, if Trump attorney John Sauer really was saying that a President could assassinate his rival and, if not impeached, avoid any accountability, Judge Karen Henderson expressed her disagreement with Sauer’s argument more circumspectly.

But she did express disagreement.

If I read her comments right, they mean that, at worst, Henderson would support remanding the case to Judge Chutkan to figure out whether the things of which Trump is accused are official acts. Indeed, by the end of a brutal set of questions, that seemed to be what Sauer was begging for, which at least would produce the delay his client seeks.

Henderson’s key lens — something she asked both Sauer and AUSA James Pearce — was, rather than distinguishing between private and official acts, instead distinguishing between discretionary acts and those mandated by law, ministerial acts.

Whether the progeny of Madison v. Marbury has distinguished between discretionary official acts and ministerial, by which they mean, imposed by law, and it’s the latter one by which he can be held liable.

This seemed to be the basis on which she wants to base jurisdiction (where Pan and Michelle Childs seemed inclined to argue they didn’t have jurisdiction). She seemed to be saying that a President could be prosecuted for things that were dictated by law but not for things not dictated by law.

Sauer didn’t get her point. He responded that nothing in the indictment was ministerial.

To which Henderson objected that the Take Care Clause requires the President to follow, “every one of … the laws.”

Why isn’t it ministerial when his constitutional duty, to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, requires him to follow those laws? Every one of them.

Sauer kept digging, arguing the Take Care Clause was entirely discretionary.

Henderson responded, getting to what, I think, is her point. The progeny of Marbury has given Article III courts jurisdiction over ministerial actions, which when yoked with the Take Care Clause requires the President to be subject to individual laws.

I think it’s paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty, to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, allows him to violate criminal law. Now, we’re at the motion to dismiss stage. The government has charged the specific criminal laws. We have to assume they’re true.

[snip]

We’ve gotten beyond Marbury in the sense that official acts have been subdivided into discretionary and duty-bound or ministerial. And in the ministerial or duty-bound, at least with respect even legislators and judges, they have been held criminally liable. And that’s in the face, at least with respect to the legislators, of an explicit privilege.

It’s clear that she was bothered by Sauer’s Take Care Clause arguments, which argued that everything included in the indictment might be covered by the Take Care Clause requiring that the President enforce the law.

Sauer seemed to recognize defeat: as he finished he asked again for a stay so Trump can appeal.

As mentioned, Judge Henderson asked the same question about Marbury of James Pearce, arguing for Jack Smith. He responded this way:

Our interpretation is much closer in line to what I think I heard Judge Pan setting out and similar to yours. It certainly does not erect an unreviewable power for the Presidency. I think the prime example of that is the steel seizure case. The Youngstown case. That was President Truman closing the steel mills. That was the court coming in and reviewing that. We see that all the way through to the present. And so it’s hard to see any world in which the court just says, we can’t intervene here.

I accept the court’s, Judge Henderson, the distinction between ministerial and discretionary acts. Compliance with the law is not some sort of discretionary call, right? It is something that, I fully endorse or agree with the idea of a paradox of a President’s, on the one hand, having the Article II Take Care responsibility, and on the other hand seeing the law, compliance with the law as optional.

That seemed to get Henderson where she wanted to go to decide the case. Then she revealed her worry: That in deciding against Trump, it will unleash a floodgate of similar criminal prosecutions.

Henderson: Let me switch and ask you, how do we write an opinion that would stop the floodgates? Your predecessors in their OLC opinions recognized that criminal liability would be unavoidably political.

Pearce: So, a couple of responses. Of course, that was with respect to a sitting President. I think the analysis is extraordinarily different with respect to a former President, which OLC, I’m sorry —

Henderson: But with respect to being necessarily political.

Pearce: There is a political process, which is impeachment. And we can talk about that. But there is a legal process which is decidedly not political. And that is a process which has the kinds of safeguards that a couple of members of the court here have already referred to. We’re talking about prosecutors who follow strict codes and who are presumed to act with regularity, grand jurors, petit jury eventually, and this court, Article III courts standing above it.

But I also want to push back a little against this idea of floodgates. At least since the Watergate era, fifty years ago, has there been widespread societal recognition including by Presidents and the Executive Branch that a former President is subject to criminal prosecution.

And Nixon was not about private conduct. Nixon was about — among other things — using the CIA to try to interfere with an FBI investigation. He then accepts a pardon, understanding that, after having resigned, so that also undermines this impeachment first argument. After Nixon, we then see a series of independent and special prosecutors investigating a range of different types of conduct.

[snip]

This notion that we’re going to all of a sudden see a floodgate, the careful investigations in the Clinton era didn’t result in any charges. The fact that this investigation did doesn’t reflect that we are going to see a sea change of vindictive tit for tat prosecutions in the future. I think it reflects the fundamentally unprecedented nature of the criminal charges here. Never before has there been allegations that a sitting President has, with private individuals, and using the levers of power, sought to fundamentally subvert the democratic republic and the electoral system. And frankly, if that kind of fact pattern arises again, I think it would be awfully scary if there weren’t some sort of mechanism by which to reach that criminally.

Ultimately, Pearce argued that Trump’s parade of horribles has been disproven by the last fifty years in which it has been presumed that former Presidents could be prosecuted, but none were, until Trump.

Henderson has been sympathetic to Trump’s past claims that he’s being treated differently, politically. So I can understand how it would concern her.

But as noted, once you’re dealing with a former President, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Dan Scavino, Alone with Trump, Had Access to the Attempted Murder Weapon

Since DC District unsealed Jack Smith’s warrant to obtain Trump’s Twitter account, I have described that one of the most important things prosecutors were seeking was attribution: to learn, before conducting an Executive Privilege-waived interview with Dan Scavino, whether Trump or Scavino wielded the murder weapon, Trump’s Twitter account, that almost got Mike Pence killed three years ago.

Donald Trump nearly killed his Vice President by tweet — the tweet he sent at 2:24PM on January 6, 2021.

111. At 2:24 p.m., after advisors had left the Defendant alone in his dining room, the Defendant issued a Tweet intended to further delay and obstruct the certification: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

112. One minute later, at 2:25 p.m., the United States Secret Service was forced to evacuate the Vice President to a secure location.

113. At the Capitol, throughout the afternoon, members of the crowd chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!”; “Where is Pence? Bring him out!”; and “Traitor Pence!”

114. The Defendant repeatedly refused to approve a message directing rioters to leave the Capitol, as urged by his most senior advisors-including the White House Counsel, a Deputy White House Counsel, the Chief of Staff, a Deputy Chief of Staff, and a Senior Advisor.

As the indictment tells it, at the time Trump sent his potentially lethal tweet, inciting the mob bearing down on Mike Pence, Pence’s spouse, and daughter, Donald Trump was alone in his dining room with the murder weapon: an unknown phone, and his Twitter account.

But when DOJ served a warrant on Twitter for Trump’s Twitter account on January 17, they couldn’t be sure who was holding the murder weapon. They also wouldn’t know whether triggering the murder weapon was coordinated with other events.

That explains why, as Thomas Windom described in a February 9 hearing, metadata from Trump’s Twitter account showing any other account associated with his own may have been just as important for the investigation as any DMs obtained with the warrant.

MR. HOLTZBLATT: Well, Your Honor, we don’t — the issue, Your Honor — there isn’t a category of “associated account information”; that’s not information that Twitter stores.

What we are doing right now is manually attempting to ascertain links between accounts. But the ascertainment of links between accounts on the basis of machine, cookie, IP address, email address, or other account or device identifier is not information that Twitter possesses, it would be information that Twitter needs to create. So that’s the reason why we had not previously produced it because it’s not a category of information that we actually possess.

[snip]

MR. WINDOM: It is, as explained more fully in the warrant — but for these purposes, it is a useful tool in identifying what other accounts are being used by the same user or by the same device that has access to the account is oftentimes in any number of cases, user attribution is important. And if there are other accounts that a user is using, that is very important to the government’s investigation.

[snip]

MR. HOLTZBLATT: That’s right. If the records — if the linkage between accounts, which is what we understand this category to be referring to, is not itself a piece of information that we keep, then it’s not a business record that we would ordinarily produce.

What I understand the government to be asking is for us to analyze our data, as opposed to produce existing data. And we are trying to work with the government in that respect, but that is the reason that it is not something that — that is a different category of information. [my emphasis]

By that point, DOJ would have had Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony describing what she saw sitting outside Trump’s dining room door (and once, going in to pass off Mark Meadows’ phone). They would have had two grand jury appearances from the two Pats, Cipollone and Philbin, the White House Counsel and Deputy Counsel described in the passage. They would have had at least one interview with Eric Herschmann — the Senior Advisor trying to calm him down.

They did not yet have privilege waived testimony from the Chief of Staff — Mark Meadows — or the Deputy Chief of Staff — Dan Scavino.

And Dan Scavino was the most likely other person to know about that near murder by tweet, because Dan Scavino was in his position, the Deputy Chief of Staff, first and foremost because he had masterminded Trump’s own mastery of Twitter going back to 2016.

So one thing DOJ needed to know before they conducted an interview that took place after Beryl Howell rejected yet another frivolous Executive Privilege claim in March was how Dan Scavino accessed Trump’s Twitter account when he did, from what device.

Who else had access to Trump’s Twitter account, one part of the murder weapon?

ABC News reported details from several of the interviews that took place after Jack Smith got that Twitter warrant, including extensive details about what Scavino told prosecutors. Sure enough, he claimed that he had nothing to do with the Tweet that almost got Pence killed — that instead, he had left Trump alone with the murder weapon. He claimed — as the indictment made it clear he must have — that he wasn’t in the room.

According to what sources said Scavino told Smith’s team, Trump was “very angry” that day — not angry at what his supporters were doing to a pillar of American democracy, but steaming that the election was allegedly stolen from him and his supporters, who were “angry on his behalf.” Scavino described it all as “very unsettling,” sources said.

At times, Trump just sat silently at the head of the table, with his arms folded and his eyes locked on the TV, Scavino recounted, sources said.

After unsuccessfully trying for up to 20 minutes to persuade Trump to release some sort of calming statement, Scavino and others walked out of the dining room, leaving Trump alone, sources said. That’s when, according to sources, Trump posted a message on his Twitter account saying that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.”

Trump’s aides told investigators they were shocked by the post. Aside from Trump, Scavino was the only other person with access to Trump’s Twitter account, and he was often the one actually posting messages to it, so when the message about Pence popped up, Cipollone and another White House attorney raced to find Scavino, demanding to know why he would post that in the midst of such a precarious situation, sources said.

Scavino said he was as blindsided by the post as they were, insisting to them, “I didn’t do it,” according to the sources. [my emphasis]

Why would Pat Cipollone confront Scavino about the Tweet if “Scavino and others walked out of the dining room” — implicitly, walked out together — “leaving Trump alone”? Cipollone would only confront Scavino if he had believed that Scavino were still there with Trump, as his testimony describes he had been until just before Trump sent the Tweet.

The warrant on Twitter, which would have shown whether it is really true that Scavino was the only other person with access to Trump’s Twitter account, is not the only way Jack Smith tested this claim, knew the answer to this claim before interviewing Scavino.

As an expert witness notice revealed last month, Smith will call a witness at Trump’s trial to describe what they found on Trump’s White House phone and that of one other person — which might be Scavino, Nick Luna (whose testimony is also described in detail in the ABC piece), or one of several other people. That witness will explain when Trump’s phone was unlocked and using Twitter on January 6.

Expert 3 has knowledge, skill, experience, training, and education beyond the ordinary lay person regarding the analysis of cellular phone data, including the use of Twitter and other applications on cell phones. The Government expects that Expert 3 will testify that he/she: (1) extracted and processed data from the White House cell phones used by the defendant and one other individual (Individual 1); (2) reviewed and analyzed data on the defendant’s phone and on Individual 1’s phone, including analyzing images found on the phones and websites visited; (3) determined the usage of these phones throughout the post-election period, including on and around January 6, 2021; and (4) specifically identified the periods of time during which the defendant’s phone was unlocked and the Twitter application was open on January 6.

So whether it is true that Scavino was blindsided by the Tweet, as he told Jack Smith he told Cipollone, Jack Smith has Scavino’s testimony that he wasn’t present (again, as I said he must), Cipollone’s testimony that Scavino said he wasn’t present, and metadata consistent with Trump sending the Tweet himself.

As you read the rest of the ABC piece, keep two things in mind. This leaked testimony concentrates on other aspects of the claims made to Jack Smith about how Twitter was used that day, such as this description of Luna’s testimony, describing that he warned Trump before the then-President sent a Tweet making him look “culpable” the day of the attack.

According to the sources, shortly before 6 p.m. on Jan. 6, Trump showed Luna a draft of a Twitter message he was thinking about posting: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots. … Remember this day for forever!” it read.

The message echoed what Trump had allegedly been saying privately all day.

Sources said Luna told Trump that it made him sound “culpable” for the violence, perhaps even as if he may have somehow been involved in “directing” it, sources said.

Still, at 6:01 p.m., Trump posted the message anyway.

That testimony — that Luna warned Trump the Tweet would make him look like he was responsible for the violence — will only strengthen the extent to which this Tweet was already going to be used to prove that Trump ratified the violence, effectively showing that Trump remained in a conspiracy with those who violently attacked the Capitol even after watching them do so.

Which brings me to the second point. Multiple people who gave this testimony — and probably the person or persons who shared it with ABC — claim to believe that they witnessed that Trump almost murdered his Vice President, someone who had been just as (or in Scavino’s case, almost as) loyal as they had been.

Again, there has to be a bunch of metadata that is consistent with the stories told to Jack Smith, so it’s not so much I doubt Scavino’s claim that he was not in the room when that Tweet was sent out. It’s that this testimony came from people who chose to stick around — some of whom, including Scavino, continue to stick around — knowing that if Trump ever turns on them he wouldn’t stop short of using his mob to get them killed.

“Stand Back and Stand By:” Jack Smith’s Hidden Cards

Two years ago, I wrote a January 6 post describing how the vastness of the attack makes it unknowable, even for someone who had been tracking it full time.

I have spent the better part of the year working full time, with few days off, trying to understand (and help others understand) January 6. I’ve got a clear (though undoubtedly partial) vision of how it all works — how the tactical developments in the assault on the Capitol connect directly back to actions Donald Trump took. Zoe Tillman, one of a handful of other journalists who is attempting to track all these cases (while parenting a toddler and covering other major judicial developments) has a piece attempting to do so with a summary of the numbers. But both those methods are inadequate to the task.

But thus far, that clear vision remains largely unknowable via the normal ways the general public learns. That’s why, I think, people like Lawrence Tribe are so panicked: because even beginning to understand this thing is, quite literally, a full time job, even for those of us with the luxury of living an ocean away. In Tribe’s case, he has manufactured neglect out of what he hasn’t done the work to know. To have something that poses such an obvious risk to American democracy remain so unknowable, so mysterious — to not be able to make sense of the mob that threatens democracy — makes it far more terrifying.

I know a whole lot about what is knowable about the January 6 investigation. But one thing I keep realizing is that it remains unknowable.

I wrote the post, in part, hoping to allay the fear many people seemed to have because they couldn’t understand the investigation and therefore were sure that DOJ was only investigating MAGA tourists, who at that point made up most of the prosecutions. Since that time, hundreds of assault convictions and three seditious conspiracy trials later, we’ve learned that DOJ was already investigating three of Trump’s co-conspirators, it’s just that those investigations didn’t look like what people were looking for.

I’d like to reprise the theme, again to reassure people.

Two years later, 500 and the all important One defendants later, the investigation remains unknowable.

Specifically, while it seems that my assumption from last summer — that Jack Smith chose to charge just Trump first, presumably in a bid to get to trial before the election — was correct, we have no idea what he plans from here forward. A filing in December even revealed that there are others, besides the six identified in the Trump indictment, that the government plans to treat as unindicted co-conspirators at Trump’s eventual trial. Given the prosecution’s plan to introduce Trump’s shout out — “stand back and stay by” — to the Proud Boys, that suggests DOJ might even treat the seditious militia as Trump’s co-conspirators.

We don’t know what Jack Smith planned to do with all the other co-conspirators last summer. We don’t know what he plans to do with them now.

Unlike the Mueller investigation, we don’t even know all the prosecutors Jack Smith has working for him. We didn’t even hear that Michael Dreeben had returned to government to work for him until his name appeared on an appellate brief. There are at least four AUSAs who have not shown up, not recently anyway, in public filings. I’m quite certain they haven’t been twiddling their thumbs in the last year.

What we do know, however, is that Jack Smith team members JP Cooney and Molly Gaston both survived the aftermath of the Mueller investigation, the former in dealing with the aftermath of the Roger Stone resignations, and the latter in the aftermath of the Paul Manafort prosecution. They know how Trump pardoned his way out of a Russian conspiracy charge in 2020. They likely have some ideas about how to avoid that this time around (which may be why Smith hasn’t indicted any of Trump’s co-conspirators yet).

Since Judge Chutkan stayed proceedings for Trump’s immunity appeal, Jack Smith’s team has continued submitting filings — including the 404(b) notice warning prosecutors would raise Trump’s support for the Proud Boys at trial. And it’s driving Trump nuts; he even asked Judge Chutkan to hold Jack Smith in contempt for continuing to meet deadlines that she has stayed (issuing a filing complaining that they’re issuing filings!). One way to create the opportunity to tell more of the story of January 6, as Trump attempts to keep it out of the news through the primaries, is to indict more people, possibly sub-conspiracies tied to each of Trump’s identified co-conspirators.

Jack Smith made a choice last summer to only indict Trump at that time. But if the DC Circuit creates further delays in prosecuting Trump, Smith can make a different choice now.

We don’t know what his team has been doing while Gaston and Thomas Windom have been the primary faces of the prosecution. But he has cards left to play.

When Michael Dreeben Accepted John Sauer’s Invitation to Talk about Speech and Debate

Trump’s appeal of Judge Tanya Chutkan’s immunity opinion is interesting for the personnel involved. The briefs repeat the very same arguments — and in some instances, include the same passages almost verbatim — made less than three months ago. But first Trump brought in John Sauer to argue his appellate cases, then in the last few weeks, former Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben quietly joined the Special Counsel team (importantly, the Solicitor General appointed by Joe Biden has no role in this appeal).

That makes any changes in the arguments of particular interest, because accomplished appellate lawyers saw fit to add them.

Admittedly, two things happened in the interim to change the landscape significantly. In Blassingame, issued hours before Chutkan released her order, DC Circuit Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan laid out how a President running for reelection does not act in his official duty. In Meadows, 11th Circuit Chief Judge William Pryor adopted that analysis in the criminal context with regards to Mark Meadows in the Georgia case.

That provided both sides the opportunity to address what I had argued, on October 21, was a real weakness in Jack Smith’s first response: the relative silence on the extent to which Trump’s actions were not part of his official duties.

In total, DOJ’s more specific arguments take up just six pages of the response. I fear it does not do as much as it could do in distinguishing between the role of President and political candidate, something that will come before SCOTUS — and could get there first — in the civil suits against Trump.

Citing both Blassingame and Meadows, Smith and Dreeben invited the DC Circuit to rule narrowly if it chose, finding that the crimes alleged in the indictment all pertain to Trump’s role as candidate.

The Court need not address those issues here, however. The indictment alleges a conspiracy to overturn the presidential election results, JA.26, through targeting state officials, id. at 32-44; creating fraudulent slates of electors in seven states, id. at 44-50; leveraging the Department of Justice in the effort to target state officials through deceit and to substitute the fraudulent elector slates supporting his personal candidacy for the legitimate ones, id. at 50-54; attempting to enlist the Vice President to fraudulently alter the election results during the certification proceeding on January 6, 2021, and directing supporters to the Capitol to obstruct the proceeding, id. at 55-62; and exploiting the violence and chaos that transpired at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, id. at 62-65. The indictment thus alleges conspiracies to advance the defendant’s prospects as a candidate for elective office in concert with private persons as well as government officials, cf. Blassingame, 87 F.4th at 4 (the President’s conduct falls beyond the outer perimeter of his official duties if it can only be understood as having been undertaken in his capacity as a candidate for re-election), and the defendant offers no plausible argument that the federal government function and official proceeding that he is charged with obstructing establish a role—much less an exclusive and conclusive role—for the President, see Georgia v. Meadows, No. 23-12958, 2023 WL 8714992, at *11 (11th Cir. Dec. 18, 2023); United States v. Rhodes, 610 F. Supp. 3d 29, 41 (D.D.C. 2022) (Congress and the Vice President in his role as President of the Senate carry out the “laws governing the transfer of power”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The short term goal here is to convince Judge Karen Henderson, the Poppy Bush appointee on this panel whose judicial views have grown as radical as any Trump appointee’s, to reject Trump’s claims. Ultimately, Jack Smith is arguing against Presidential immunity even for official acts, but a ruling limited to acts taken as a candidate might provide a way to get Judge Henderson to join the two Biden appointees on the panel, Florence Pan and Michelle Childs, in rejecting Trump’s immunity claims.

In both his briefs, Trump had — ridiculously! — argued that Nixon’s Watergate actions were private acts yet Trump’s January 6 actions were part of his official duties. Smith swatted that claim away in a passage noting that Nixon’s acceptance of a pardon served as precedent for the notion that a President could be tried for actions done as President.

That President Nixon was named as an unindicted coconspirator in a plot to defraud the United States and obstruct justice, Nixon, 418 U.S. at 687, entirely refutes the defendant’s efforts (Br.27-28, 41) to distinguish that case as involving private conduct. See United States v. Haldeman, 559 F.2d 31, 121-22 (D.C. Cir. 1976) (en banc) (per curiam) (explaining that the offense conduct included efforts “to get the CIA to interfere with the Watergate investigation being conducted by the FBI” and “to obtain information concerning the investigation from the FBI and the Department of Justice”) (internal quotation marks omitted). And President Nixon’s acceptance of the pardon represents a “confession of guilt.” Burdick v. United States, 236 U.S. 79, 90-91 (1915).

Again, once the categorization adopted by Srinivasan is available, it makes the comparison with Nixon far more damning.

One of the most interesting additions to the earlier arguments, however, is that Sauer added a second kind of immunity to Trump’s earlier discussion that the principles of judicial immunity carry over to Presidential immunity: Speech and Debate. In two cursory paragraphs, Sauer claimed that, like members of Congress, Trump should enjoy both civil and criminal immunity for their official, “legislative” acts.

Legislative immunity. Legislative immunity encompasses the “privilege … to be free from arrest or civil process” for legislative acts, i.e., criminal and civil proceedings alike. Tenney, 341 U.S. at 372. Such immunity enables officials “to execute the functions of their office without fear of prosecutions, civil or criminal.” Id. at 373–74 (quoting Coffin v. Coffin, 4 Mass. 1, 27 (Mass. 1808)).

Thus, legislative immunity “prevent[s]” legislative acts “from being made the basis of a criminal charge against a member of Congress.” Johnson, 383 U.S. at 180. A legislative act “may not be made the basis for a civil or criminal judgment against a Member [of Congress] because that conduct is within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity.” Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606, 624 (1972) (emphasis added). Speech and Debate immunity “protects Members against prosecutions that directly impinge upon or threaten the legislative process.” Id. at 616.

Did I say two developments have changed the landscape of this discussion? I’m sorry, I should have added a third: In response to the September DC Circuit remand of Scott Perry’s appeal of Judge Beryl Howell’s decision that Jack Smith could have some stuff from his phone — in a panel including Henderson — on December 19, Howell’s successor at Chief Judge, James Boasberg reviewed the contested files anew and ruled that Smith could have most of them, including communications pertaining to “efforts to work with or influence members of the Executive Branch.”

Subcategories (c), (d), (e), and (f) comprise communications about non-legislative efforts to work with or influence members of the Executive Branch. Even if such activities are “in a day’s work for a Member of Congress,” the Speech or Debate Clause “does not protect acts that are not legislative in nature.”

Kyle Cheney (who snagged an accidentally posted filing before it was withdrawn) described what many of those communications would include, including Perry’s advance knowledge of Trump’s efforts to install Jeffrey Clark as Attorney General.

Boasberg’s order required Perry to turn over those communications by December 27; if he appealed that decision, I’m not aware of it. So as you read this Speech and Debate section, consider the likelihood that Jack Smith finally obtained records from a member of Congress DOJ has been seeking for 17 months, since before Smith was appointed.

The DC Circuit opinion in Perry is not mentioned in any of these briefs. But the developments provide an interesting backdrop for Dreeben’s much longer response to Sauer’s half-hearted Speech and Debate bid. Much of it is an originalist argument, noting that whereas Speech and Debate was explicitly included in the Constitution, immunity for Presidents was not, not even in a landscape where Delaware and Virginia had afforded their Executive such immunity.

Along the way, Dreeben includes two citations that weren’t in Jack Smith’s original submission: One from Clarence Thomas making just that originalist argument about Presidential immunity: “the Constitution explicitly addresses the privileges of some federal officials, but it does not afford the President absolute immunity.” And one from Karen Henderson, the key vote in this panel, noting that, contra Sauer’s expansive immunity claim, “it is well settled that a Member is subject to criminal prosecution and process.”

Unlike the explicit textual immunity granted to legislators under the Speech or Debate Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 6, cl. 1, which provides that “for any Speech or Debate in either House,” members of Congress “shall not be questioned in any other Place,” the Constitution does not expressly provide such protection for the President or any executive branch officials. See Vance, 140 S. Ct. at 2434 (Thomas, J., dissenting) (“The text of the Constitution explicitly addresses the privileges of some federal officials, but it does not afford the President absolute immunity.”); JA.604-06. By contrast, state constitutions at the time of the founding in Virginia and Delaware did grant express criminal immunity to the state’s chief executive officer. JA.605 (citing Saikrishna Bangalore Prakash, Prosecuting and Punishing Our Presidents, 100 Tex. L. Rev. 55, 69 (2021)). To be sure, the federal Constitution’s “silence . . . on this score is not dispositive,” Nixon, 418 U.S. at 705 n.16, but that silence is telling when placed against the Constitution’s Impeachment Judgment Clause, which presupposes and expressly preserves the availability of criminal prosecution following impeachment and conviction. See U.S. Const. art. I, § 3, cl. 7.

[snip]

The defendant suggests (Br.16-17, 18-19) that common-law principles of legislative immunity embodied in the Speech or Debate Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 6, cl. 1, inform the immunity analysis here, but that suggestion lacks support in constitutional text, history, or purpose. The Framers omitted any comparable text protecting executive officials, see Vance, 140 S. Ct. at 2434 (Thomas, J., dissenting), and no reason exists to look to the Speech or Debate Clause as a model for the defendant’s immunity claim.

In contrast to the defendant’s sweeping claim of immunity for all Presidential acts within the outer perimeter of his duties, the Speech or Debate Clause’s scope is specific: it is limited to conduct “within the ‘sphere of legitimate legislative activity.’” Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606, 624 (1972). “Legislative acts are not all-encompassing,” and exclude a vast range of “acts in [a Member’s] official capacity,” such as outreaches to the Executive Branch. Id. Beyond that limitation, the Clause “does not purport to confer a general exemption . . . from liability . . . in criminal cases.” Id. at 626. Nor does it “privilege [Members or aides] to violate an otherwise valid criminal law in preparing for or implementing legislative acts.” Id. Courts have therefore recognized for more than 200 years that a Representative “not acting as a member of the house” is “not entitled to any privileges above his fellow-citizens” but instead “is placed on the same ground, on which his constituents stand.” Coffin v. Coffin, 4 Mass. 1, 28-29 (1808); see Rayburn House Off. Bldg., 497 F.3d at 670 (Henderson, J., concurring in the judgment) (observing that “it is well settled that a Member is subject to criminal prosecution and process”). The Speech or Debate Clause does not “make Members of Congress super-citizens, immune from criminal responsibility.” United States v. Brewster, 408 U.S. 501, 516 (1972). The defendant’s immunity claim, however, would do just that, absent prior impeachment and conviction.

The Speech or Debate Clause’s historical origins likewise reveal its inapplicability in the Presidential context. The Clause arose in response to successive British kings’ use of “the criminal and civil law to suppress and intimidate critical legislators.” United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. 169, 178 (1966); see United States v. Gillock, 445 U.S. 360, 368-69 (1980) (noting that the English parliamentary privilege arose from “England’s experience with monarchs exerting pressure on members of Parliament” in order “to make them more responsive to their wishes”). In one instance, the King “imprison[ed] members of Commons on charges of seditious libel and conspiracy to detain the Speaker in the chair to prevent adjournment,” and the judiciary afforded no relief because “the judges were often lackeys of the Stuart monarchs.” Johnson, 383 U.S. at 181. That history has no parallel here: the defendant can point to no record of abuses of the criminal law against former Presidents, and the Article III judiciary provides a bulwark against any such abuses. [my emphasis]

Having been invited to discuss congressional immunity, Smith’s brief cites another comment from Henderson’s Rayburn concurrence elsewhere. “[T]he laws of this country allow no place or employment as a sanctuary for crime.”

see United States v. Rayburn House Off. Bldg., 497 F.3d 654, 672-73 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (Henderson, J., concurring in the judgment) (“[T]he laws of this country allow no place or employment as a sanctuary for crime.”) (citing Williamson v. United States, 207 U.S. 425, 439 (1908)). [my emphasis]

Tactically, all this is just an argument — an originalist argument — that even an immunity explicitly defined in the Constitution, Speech and Debate, does not — Judge Karen Henderson observed in 2007, when the question of immunity pertained to Black Democrat William Jefferson, in a case in which she sided with DOJ attorney Michael Dreeben — exempt anyone from criminal prosecution. Read her concurrence! She makes the same arguments about Tudor kings that Smith and Dreeben make!

But much of Jack Smith’s response, in my opinion, lays the ground work for other, future appeals. For example, this brief adopts a slight change in the way it describes the fake elector plot, emphasizing the centrality of Trump, “caus[ing his fake electors] to send false certificates to Congress,” a move that may be a preemptive response to any narrowing of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) that SCOTUS plans in the Fischer appeal of obstruction’s use for January 6.

Ultimately, Smith is still arguing for a broader ruling, rejecting Trump’s presidential immunity claims more generally. Ultimately, I imagine this adoption of language from Clinton v Jones is where Jack Smith would like to end up.

Given that, the Constitution cannot be understood simultaneously (and implicitly) to immunize a former President from criminal prosecution for official acts; rather, the Constitution envisions Presidential accountability in his political capacity through impeachment and in his personal capacity through prosecution. See Clinton, 520 U.S. at 696 (“[F]ar from being above the laws, [the President] is amenable to them in his private character as a citizen, and in his public character by impeachment.”) (quoting 2 J. Elliot, Debates on the Federal Constitution 480 (2d ed. 1863) (James Wilson)).

To get there without possibly fatal delays, though, Dreeben and Smith need to get Henderson to agree to at least a narrow rejection of Trump’s immunity claims.

And so, responding to Sauer’s invitation, Dreeben reminded Henderson of what she said about a case he argued 16 years ago.

But if I were Scott Perry, three days after he was ordered to turn over records about his plotting with Donald Trump to overturn the election, I’d be watching these arguments closely.