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SCOTUS ruling TRANSCRIPT: 7/9/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Berit Berger, John Flannery, David Cay Johnston, Emily Bazelon


Good evening, Ari.

And I just have to tell you, Ari, Pete Williams dropped an M.C. Hammer reference in his Supreme Court report to me. You are having an impact on everybody on this network, my friend.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Is that right?


TODD: Yes. You would have been so proud.

MELBER: I`m thrilled. I missed it, because, like you, when I`m not on air, I`m running around reporting.

But they say, please, Hammer, don`t hurt them. If M.C. Hammer is having an influence on all of us, amazing.

TODD: Amazing is right. M.C. Williams.

See you, Ari.

MELBER: There you go.

Great to see you, Chuck. And thank you for that little news tidbit.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT. I am Ari Melber.

And, as the Supreme Court is handing Donald Trump this decisive, historic loss, we have everything for you on it tonight in a special show.

This new decision, which we`re about to get in to, cuts to the heart of the arguments that Donald Trump and his lawyers made about the presidential power he argued to try to hide things, his records his tax returns.

And by losing today, Donald Trump loses, and the Supreme Court rules that he now can no longer hide those returns. It clears the path for the New York DA to get those coveted Trump tax returns.

So, tonight, let me tell you briefly what we have coming up, a special report about what this rebuke means for Donald Trump. , more broadly, because, sooner or later, there`s life after any president, what it means for the office of the presidency of the United States. That`s coming up.

Also, the mystery of why Donald Trump`s gone to these lengths, even backfiring, as we have seen at the court today, to hide this stuff. What is he hiding? We have an award-winning biographer who`s been tracking these exact finances joining us later tonight.

But we begin with all the legal facts. You may have heard -- if you follow the news, you may have heard about this today. But here is everything that happened.

The Supreme Court ruled on two cases involving Donald Trump`s financial records. First, Trump losing, as the court rules he must cooperate with the New York DA -- those are prosecutors up there -- seeking his tax returns and other evidence.

The clear message here is that Donald Trump is no different than any other person who`s facing a criminal inquiry or is supposed to cooperate with one. Now, this rebuke also came, interestingly, with a very wide margin, 7- 2.

The same broad coalition also went a different way in the second case, providing a delay that Donald Trump wanted, because, in the second case, the Supreme Court has ordered more litigation how or even if Congress can ever get any of the tax returns.

So that means, for now, those records not expected legally to reach Congress, let alone the public, before the coming November election. Now, there are many people who argued, even if you put all the legal wrangling aside, that it would be a good thing for American democracy if voters had more information going into the reelection, before deciding on it, regarding Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

Well, the court ruling that, unlike this loss in New York, for this specific fight with Congress, a standoff with another branch of government, the president does have special constitutional powers.

Now, it`s the first ruling, Trump`s loss, that will set this big new precedent, rejecting the claims that the president might be immune from criminal proceedings. It is a major rebuke. It is a new precedent, as I mentioned, governing future precedents -- presidents -- a precedent for presidents, kind of rhymes, M.C. Hammer or not.

And it draws attention to the lengths that Donald Trump is going to hide his taxes from even private review by prosecutors, which is now expected. And, of course, those lengths also compromise, don`t forget, a blatant violation of Trump`s own pledges to release them.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I decide to run for office, I will produce my tax returns.

I don`t mind releasing. I`m under a routine audit, and it`ll be released. And as soon as the audit is finished, it`ll be released.

While I`m under audit, I won`t do it. If I`m not under audit, I would do it. I had no problem with it.


MELBER: No, didn`t happen, never released them.

Today`s loss reinforces how far Donald Trump went to break the pledge I just showed you, not only hiding the returns, but taking that quest all the way to the Supreme Court, where he just fell on his face legally and lost badly, lost by a vote of 7-2.

Now, legally, today`s ruling empowers the DA to get that stuff. And grand jury secrecy laws ensure that, in that case in New York, those materials legally won`t go public.

And we have more on how all that works tonight. Now, the New York subpoenas grew out of Donald Trump`s hush money payment scandal, and the question of whether Trump or his team or his company committed crimes, such as a cover- up or lying on business records pursuant to those payments.

The feds, of course, already found one crime there, you may recall. Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, was convicted of a campaign finance crime there.

And by a total coincidence, news breaking today that Cohen was actually just taken back into federal custody. Why? Because of, in part, the visual images you`re seeing there. He had been out early on home confinement over COVID concerns, but the Bureau of Prisons asserting today -- this is late- breaking news -- that what you see here in "The New York Post" photograph, that he was basically violating the very legal conditions of, yes, home confinement by, as photographed here, not being home, but dining out in public in New York.

Now that is, again, just a complete legal coincidence that the person in jail previously for the thing that relates to Donald Trump`s loss at the Supreme Court today happened to go in to check on home confinement papers and get ordered back into custody. That`s a footnote.

Big picture, today`s ruling that Trump is not above the law was clear and broad. Trump is responding by trying to downplay the potential impact and saying he will keep trying to fight it out in New York.

And both of Donald Trump`s appointees to the court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the majority today against Trump, for the principle that this law, the rule of law, applies to the president.

As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his ruling: "The president is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas" -- that`s what`s up in New York -- "nor entitled to what legally amounts to special treatment," as Roberts put it, the so-called -- quote -- "heightened standard."

This is a key rejection of Donald Trump`s attempt to assert a broader power than ever previously recognized. And the Supreme Court, interestingly, speaking in one very broad voice to tell Donald Trump he was wrong.

I`m joined right now by Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for "The New York Times Magazine," a fellow at Yale Law School, at a legal guest we have relied on many times, former federal prosecutor Berit Berger, and for the historical perspective, just given how many presidents` histories come into play, I`m thrilled to tell you we also have Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize- winning presidential historian.

Good to see all of you.


MELBER: Let`s start with you, Emily.

This is a pretty strong ruling on the New York case and a delay that the president was seeking on the congressional side. Your view of all of it?

BAZELON: Well, I think the point about delay is a key one, because we are still a couple of steps away from actually seeing Trump`s tax returns.

And the chances of that happening in either case before the election for the public are low. The Manhattan DA in New York has asked for the tax returns for the grand jury. That`s a secret proceeding. I agree that there -- the path for that happening is open.

But it was Congress that the public was relying on to make these tax returns immediately public. And the Supreme Court set a four-part test for lower courts to go through to look at whether Congress essentially really has shown that it needs these tax returns and wants them for a legitimate legislative purpose.

So, now the lower courts are going to have to litigate that. And I think the chances of us learning the answers to those questions before the November election are very low.

MELBER: Yes, appreciate your detailed nuance there, Emily, and you`re reminding everyone that, as important as the presidential precedent is, because we live in a nation of laws, and this will apply to future presidents, there were a lot of people who, for practical reasons, wanted to see these returns.

And tonight`s news on that congressional fight, on the idea of them potentially going public, is delay.

Jon Meacham, I want to just read to you the history in this. I mean, law and history in this country in our system are obviously always fused, because so many of the cases come from what the politicians did a long time ago. And the courts are supposed to or often apply that until there`s a really good reason not to.

I`m simplifying three years of law school, but I think everybody gets it.

Here was Justice Roberts on the notion of centuries of history that Donald Trump was trying to override: "Two centuries of experience confirm, a properly tailed criminal subpoena will not normally hamper the performance of a president`s constitutional duties."

Your thoughts, Jon?

JON MEACHAM, NBC NEWS HISTORIAN: Well, any time you have a Supreme Court opinion that tells you everything you want to know about the Aaron Burr treason trial is a good day.


MEACHAM: So let`s just stipulate that.

It`s a fascinating opinion. I`d recommend everybody read it. It lays out the long and complicated, but a complicated history that has a pretty clear and convincing and compelling result, which is that presidents are not above the law.

And the fact that we are at a place in America today where we have to say that with some relief and surprise is a sign of where we are. And the fact that we have -- an institution has done its job it was supposed to do, which is the Supreme Court, is also, you would think, giving everybody a trophy for participating.

But, again, that`s where we are. And I think the 7-2 decision is a really interesting sign that, in fact, there are constitutional guardrails that work and the fact that two of President Trump`s appointees were in that seven.

Ultimately, the American system is based on a couple of fundamental things, and one of them is the Aristotelian idea that there are separations of powers. And it came through the ancient world. It came through to the American founders from Montesquieu, who`s arguably the most important person that James Madison and others read and learned about when they were at Princeton.

They learned it from John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. And the point is that no -- because we are all fallen and frail and fallible, no one person and no one branch can have all the power.

And so you check and you balance each other. I just shrunk four years of undergraduate education into 30 seconds. And so we have done very well, I think, for America today.

MELBER: Absolutely.

MEACHAM: It`s the fundamental idea.

The other ideas are that reason has to take a stand against passion in the arena. The other is that we need to work as hard as we can to make the notion that all men are created equal real. Those are the three big ideas at the heart of the American experience, and they have all been under assault in our time.

And so this is -- this is not a final victory. No victory is final. But this is a good day for the separation of powers, which means it`s a good day for what has made America worth defending.

MELBER: Really appreciate the broad way you`re making us think about it.

And, Berit, the president`s attempt, the claim here, which was of a piece with Bill Barr, Jay Sekulow, this sweeping idea that they could do literally anything, and everyone would have to wait, at least while he was president, for any rule of law to reconvene, we have covered that.

I try to be fair. Folks who watch this show will know Jay Sekulow and others have been on the show, and we will have them back.

But, legally, that was a radical, extreme, bonkers claim, which may be why it was pushed back so hard today. For viewers who are thinking, OK, Ari, we`re talking taxes, we`re talking Congress, the claim, if applied, Berit - - and I`m curious your thoughts as a former prosecutor -- would mean that any state investigation into a murder could be effectively paused or shortcut -- short-circuited if the president didn`t want to provide certain evidence, and then assert that as such.

So, given that, I`m curious if you could walk us through the New York part of this, and what that means for the DA now moving forward?


Exactly as you said, this was a big day for the rule of law. The Supreme Court could not have more clearly rejected this idea of absolute immunity. And the fact that they did it 7-2 shows how -- what a great majority thought of.

And, in fact, for that particular point, that was unanimous. All of the justices agreed that there is no such thing for the president as absolute immunity from this type of a subpoena.

For the New York piece of this, this means that state prosecutors can continue a criminal investigation. They will have to go back to the lower court, because they have to work out the specifics with regard to this specific subpoena.

Now, the president, like any other person who`s subpoenaed, may well have arguments to make about the subpoena. He could say it`s overbroad. He could say it was burdensome.


BERGER: But he cannot say that he can`t be subpoenaed categorically.

So this was a very big, precedent-setting decision. And at least with the New York piece, I think it is very likely that the Manhattan district attorney`s office will get this material. As was said earlier, I don`t know that they will get it in time for the election. And even if they do, it will be subject to grand jury secrecy rules.

However, this material will be gotten by prosecutors, and, ultimately, if there is a crime, they will know about it.

MELBER: Exactly.

And that raises the question whether the lengths that the president went to involve something more than personal secrecy or privacy, but, as you say, fear of an open criminal probe.

We`re running over on time, so I`d love to try to do a lightning round, which is just, in a sentence or two, on the Supreme Court. So much of America`s political focus can be, understandably, on the politicians.

But this is a big day, last day of their term, with this ruling. I`m just curious, in a sentence or two, Emily and then Jon and Berit, what today, in your view, says about this Supreme Court, as it`s currently constituted.


BAZELON: This is the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John Roberts. He dissented, I believe, only once or twice the entire term.

And he was able to find accommodation with both the liberals and the conservatives on the court in different cases in a way that makes the court seem more legitimate. And that is a real goal of John Roberts going into an election year. That`s the kind of message he is leaving us with.


MEACHAM: The system, for all its failings, is working. You can disagree with the politics of the president who makes the appointments and the Senate that vote and sometimes don`t even vote on nominees.

But, by and large, the world that John Marshall created, John Marshall, arguably the most important politician of the early republic, certainly the most successful, has left us a system of checks and balances that, for all of its failings, is working.

MELBER: Berit?

BERGER: Yes, I think the important thing is, we often hear people talk about Republican judges, Democrat judges.

I think this opinion shows you that, regardless of whether a justice was appointed by a Republican or a Democratic president, ultimately, it seems they will follow the rule of law. Today`s opinion really showed that.

MELBER: Fascinating, concise. Plenty more to dig through and think about.

Emily Bazelon, Berit Berger, and Jon Meacham, our special thanks to each of you kicking off a big news night.

I want to tell viewers that, coming up, we have a further breakdown of the historic context of this monumental ruling. We have been working on it, obviously, all day since the news broke. We`re talking 200 years of American history, why this is not only bad for Trump, but why the way that his legal strategy backfired will affect future presidents in history.

My breakdown is right after this break.

Later, one of the few journalists alive who`s actually managed to obtain any of Trump`s tax returns, David Cay Johnston, is here.

Special show. Stay with us.

I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.


MELBER: Now to our report digging into the big news tonight, the nation`s highest court ruling against Donald Trump, clearing the way for New York prosecutors to get Trump`s secret and coveted financial records.

To understand this monumental ruling, why it`s a loss for Trump and a win for the principle that no one`s above the law, it does help to remember how we got here.

This all began with Trump`s hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, first revealed through the Mueller probe. But Bob Mueller never tried to address the legal question about if any of those payments or cover-up were crimes.

That was picked up and investigated by federal and local prosecutors in the place where those payments were made, New York, the feds convicting Trump`s former attorney Michael Cohen for his involvement.

And that`s why he went to prison. And, as we just were mentioning, he was actually taken back into custody today, after being out on home confinement. So, that was just one federal case.

But even worse for Trump, in an area where he has no power to pardon the crimes, if they occurred, the New York DA was then bearing down on a probe of related issues in the Trump Organization.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": The Manhattan district attorney`s office is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Prosecutors in New York have subpoenaed eight years` worth of President Trump`s tax returns.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: He`s asking for documents related to the hush money payments for porn star Stormy Daniels,

JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS HOST: The president`s outside attorneys, led by Jay Sekulow, again going to court to try to block the release of these tax returns.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Today, a federal appeals court ruled President Trump`s accounting firm must turn over eight years of tax returns to Manhattan prosecutors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump is going to get his day at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed today to take up the president`s appeals of a number of cases involving access to his financial records.

MELBER: Donald Trump has taken his years-long fight to keep his taxes secret all the way to the Supreme Court today.


MELBER: We have all been watching this fight.

Against that background and all that pressure, Trump was resisting, trying to delay, trying to sue his way out of it, and then trying to make these sweeping claims of presidential immunity, taking that all the way to the Supreme Court.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told the court they should recognize a broad immunity for Trump, so he wouldn`t have to cooperate with criminal proceedings while he`s at the White House.

And that is the claim Trump lost today. Think about it like this. In a year of admittedly many consequential moments, July 9, 2020, will go down in Supreme Court and American history as a defining moment, where Donald Trump lost, lost big, and created new, longstanding precedent on the limits of presidential powers, the opposite of what he was trying to do.

Now, Trump`s claims departed from many presidents, who either cooperated or ultimately were forced to turn over evidence, from President Nixon`s infamous Watergate tapes, to President Clinton cooperating with civil and criminal requests for his own testimony, which, of course, is a more demanding evidentiary request than what this New York DA is asking of Trump.

Tonight, the state of American law governing the powers of the president is different than it was yesterday. This is no small development. It comes after a multiyear legal and governmental battle to try to hold this president accountable, a president who basically was arguing, literally out loud, the law just shouldn`t apply to him.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The president is not above the law. He will be held accountable.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): He`s trampling on the Constitution, no doubt about it.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): No one is above the law. And that includes the president of the United States.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): There is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who believes they are above the law.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): The president is not above the law.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Nobody, not the president, nobody may be above the law. And we have to enforce that.


MELBER: You have heard that a lot from many people, nonpartisan experts, legal, constitutional scholars, and, as you saw there, many people who happen to be Democrats and oppose the president.

This is what`s so big tonight. And I want you to remember it. , the Supreme Court ruled all of that is true and is constitutional law of the land. It is not like basically true or in the ballpark, but, literally, those exact words, that exact holding, as the lawyers like to say.

Chief Justice Roberts ruling explicitly that -- quote -- "No citizen, not even the president, is above the duty to produce evidence in a criminal proceeding."

That legal duty is the law, the president not above it.

Now, from Donald Trump`s view, it gets even worse. This is an overwhelming loss, as several of our experts have mentioned earlier in our coverage, with seven justices ruling against him, four Democratic appointees and three Republican appointees.

Two of those are Donald Trump`s recent appointees, Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, who wrote his own opinion, siding against Donald Trump and stating -- quote -- "No one is above the law. That principle applies, of course, to a president."

That applies to a president, any president, even the president who gave you the promotion of a lifetime.

Whatever one thinks of these justices, this broad ruling today shows how legally extreme and wrong Donald Trump`s claims were. And while he may see everything in government or even life as a transactional payback scheme, remember this. It`s a good thing. That is not how it all works.

And, today, in this case, it`s not how the Supreme Court works.

So, that`s how we got here. That`s how bad Trump lost. And, I mean, we could stop right here, but this is THE BEAT. And this is a huge, exciting, intricate, historic ruling.

So, before we bring in more of our legal eagles -- and we have two favorites standing by -- I do want to share with you what our team has been poring over today, the highlights and the implications for what comes next.

Today`s ruling doesn`t release Trump`s tax returns in public. It means the New York DA can get them in its probe, just like evidence from any other person, holding Trump to account, because he`s not immune from state criminal subpoenas, as you see there, nor does he get special treatment like a heightened standard of need.

And the court is clear that this sets a new precedent for all future presidents, confirming that, beyond the feds -- this is the new part -- state and local prosecutors can also force a president to fork over evidence.

Now, Trump`s lawyers had been arguing for categorical immunity, a courtroom version of Trump`s claims that, even if he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, as he`s literally bragged about, he could be immune, but Justice Roberts saying, no, the president is not immune, whether the probe is about him or someone else, and noting, prosecutors advance the public with a right to -- quote -- "every man`s evidence, including the president."

That`s the Supreme Court telling Donald Trump, on this obligation, you are not special. You have got to produce the evidence, just like -- quote -- "every man," because no man or woman is above the law.

Republican appointee Chief Justice Roberts also drawing attention to how Trump is a historical outlier. And we have discussed this on tonight`s show and in our coverage beforehand, but now you have a coalition of justices noting it.

Donald Trump`s defiance of the law goes well beyond most any president in either party. Now, that`s quite a critique. Justice Roberts offering it in historical and diplomatic tones, noting how, beginning with Jefferson and carrying on through Clinton, presidents have uniformly testified or produced documents in criminal proceedings.

Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton and the probes he faced, unlike Donald Trump, he did voluntarily testify in a criminal grand jury investigation, as Roberts notes. And then the chief justice walks through the precedent long before Bill Clinton, like back in 1807, when Jefferson`s vice president, Burr, was on trial for treason, on trial because he wasn`t above the law.

Well, today`s ruling revisits that trial in detail and notes, "It was the greatest spectacle in what was then the short history of the republic."

Even during that trial, Chief Justice Marshall granting Burr`s motion for a subpoena of, yes, President Jefferson.

And Roberts writes that: "In the two centuries since Burr, successive presidents have accepted Marshall`s ruling that the chief executive is subject to subpoena and have uniformly agreed to testify when called in criminal proceedings," a theme that was common in both Trump-related Supreme Court rulings today.

The court has not had to rule on issues like this before, basically because there weren`t presidents that defied things this much. There were skirmishes, there were battles, to be sure, but presidents typically followed the rules of criminal evidence, when independent, nonpartisan prosecutors are doing what they`re supposed to do, enforce the law and find crime.

Now, Roberts cites those past presidents and how they cooperated, writing: "Two centuries of experience confirms that a properly tailed criminal subpoena will not normally hamper the performance of a president`s constitutional duties."

Now, Bill Barr has presented the opposite argument, that it`s too big a burden, or no president like Donald Trump should have to deal with it.

And I want you to see this, too, because all of these details matter. They are now going to be the law of the land. Roberts rebuts that Bill Barr Trumpian claim that somehow there would be a stigma of being subpoenaed and it would undermine the president`s leadership at home and abroad, pointing out the Trump`s own lawyer, the solicitor general, doesn`t even endorse that argument on behalf of the United States.

Roberts also notes, all of this might be because the high court has denied already twice any attempted absolute immunity claims by any other presidents facing misconduct allegations.

This is not the only time that Donald Trump`s allies have broken with him. Donald Trump`s quest to fortify the powers of the presidency, even if it was only for his own behalf, his own selfish interests, to create some new absolute immunity, that has backfired.

The Supreme Court forced to take a side here, and they didn`t take Trump`s side. This is the new standard. This is the law of the land. And this stands for all future presidents to come.

We`re going to get into all this, as promised, with our legal eagles, when we`re back in just 30 seconds.


MELBER: I`m joined now by former federal prosecutors John Flannery and Joyce Vance on this big Supreme Court day.

John Flannery, your view of the decisions, specifically the New York case that the president is not above the law.

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think what it says is that the monarch has taken a body blow as a result of what will be a historic decision, as you have indicated.

I think that the position of the DA in New York is very special, because he can speed this up in a way that the House can`t and has a specific strength. I think, in this case that it`s criminal.

The most significant thing about it is, this is the first Supreme Court case in which it`s ever been agreed that a prosecutor could subpoena a president. The prior prosecutions have been federal that have been treated by the Supreme Court. So this is a big difference.

The majority of the court, 7-2, to basically said that, well, from 1740 on, the public is entitled to the testimony, to the evidence of any person. And they said that the documents are -- the question is the character of the documents, not the character of the person.

In this case, what we have is a situation in which I bet that the DA is going to go to the court as soon as possible, move to compel an appearance to their subpoena, and going to have the discussion as to what, if anything, may be limited or excluded, and get production as quickly as possible.

This is not a new issue. It`s been in the courts a long time. There`s no reason for to take too long.

The different question is, what can they do in the courthouse once they get the information? Will they go to the grand jury? How much have they done before?

But I think the most significant thing is that the DA of New York is not subservient to Barr. I also wonder if the Supreme Court didn`t have it in mind that we have a person that no one could check in the Justice Department, because he stands there as the mouthpiece of the president, blocking everything that he could.

So what we have in New York now is, we have a situation where there`s no prior prosecution of Cohen, so there`s no double jeopardy. There`s even a statute there that was going to protect (AUDIO GAP)

MELBER: And you never want to lose John Flannery mid-thought, but, as we all are working from different conditions, I think he froze. We will try to get him back.

Joyce, John was making, I think, an apt point, that it may be that, just as some of Trump`s lawyers overreached in court in argument, the mood music of Bill Barr may not have helped or may have even backfired with some justices.

I mean, we have conservative Trump appointees on here joining this. You could pick up any of that legal point, but also offer your own, because I`m curious what you think of this rather large decision.

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think rather large as an understatement, Ari.

The court decided two, we call them issues of first impression, issues with no prior rulings, whether or not a state prosecutor could issue a subpoena like this and whether Congress could enforce a subpoena like this, and, in fact, had jurisdiction to subpoena this information.

And so these are, I think, large legal landscape decisions. They will, as you point out so aptly, set the precedent going forward. I don`t think we can know if there was any political context at all in the justices` minds.

These look to me like they are largely legalistic rulings by people who were focused intently on the relationship between the different branches of government, looking less, I think, at this particular situation, and more at what the landscape would look like going forward, although, of course, they`re ruling in this specific case, but they clearly had in mind, in the historical discussion and in their discussion of how these powers had to be right-sized and compared and balanced, they wanted to create a working system going forward, not something that reacted just to the very unusual Trump presidency.

MELBER: It`s such a great point, Joyce. And it really speaks to what is bigger than even the moment we`re in.

John Flannery back with us.

People familiar with John Flannery will know it`s difficult to ever tangle with his oratory. Only a Zoom technical difficulty could do that.


MELBER: Sir, you can finish your thought.

FLANNERY: Well, I guess I had an Internet time-out. Is that right?


FLANNERY: I think that something about this case makes it simpler for the Supreme Court.

And the thing that makes it simpler is that this involves conduct when he was a private person. It involves a conduct that is not entangled with his official functions. And I think that it matters that he is the subject, at least by the documents that they`re calling upon that affect him.

Also, he admitted in the appeal that it didn`t matter -- that he believed that you could subpoena a president, although he wanted to restrict it. So -- but he -- by making that admission, I think he moved himself into a worse position in terms of the Supreme Court with this specific case.

MELBER: Right.

FLANNERY: Now, although there were seven opinions -- rather, seven justices...

MELBER: Right.

FLANNERY: ... the two justices appointed by the president, Kavanaugh writing for Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, they took on the position that, in the Nixon case, they required a specific need in order to decide that a president had to produce something.

And both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh criticized the majority, the remaining five justices, for not making that requirement, which may be saving an argument for down the road.

MELBER: Right.


MELBER: And I want to jump in -- I just want to jump in, because you mentioned Gorsuch.

And I did want to get Joyce back in as well.

This is a time when many people are, understandably, quite skeptical of many things in America, government, justice, et cetera. But we would be remiss to let that actually also completely overtake what happened today in this ruling.

And I want to play, in fairness and in interest, what Justice Gorsuch pledged to do, Joyce, at his confirmation.


SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA): Tell us whether you would have any trouble ruling against a president who appointed you.

NEIL GORSUCH, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I have no difficulty ruling against or for any party, other than based on what the law and the facts in the particular case require, that there`s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge.

We just have judges in this country.


MELBER: Joyce, I wonder, for viewers who want the big picture and have relied on both of you through so many years of these types of stories, do you view today as more about Donald Trump losing, which he did, or the rule of law winning?

VANCE: Well, you know the answer, Ari.

Today is a win for the rule of law. Justice Gorsuch vitality into the words that he spoke during his confirmation hearings. He actually walked the walk today.

We all know that the president is not above the law in our form of government. But there are concerns. We have been through 3.5 very difficult years. Today, the Supreme Court resoundingly came down on the side of the rule of law.

And Donald Trump, who has been, I think, very public about expressing his desire to have his own Roy Cohn as his attorney general, and has expressed regret that his attorney general -- his original attorney general was not his lawyer, one wonders what he makes of these two Supreme Court justices, who he`s gone out of the way to refer to as his Supreme Court justices, as though he has some ownership.

Today, they have stood up and struck a blow for the rule of law, not a partisan blow, not a blow against Donald Trump. They have simply ruled based on the law and the facts. And the American people should sleep better tonight, because of that.

MELBER: Such an important point, when you put it that way.

Not all teaching is punitive, but this is a painful loss for Donald Trump and, as you say, an edifying, educational reminder that these are not -- quote, unquote -- "his people," and a time for us to reflect on a ray of good news from that nonpartisan rule of law perspective.

And we`re richer for hearing it from Joyce Vance and John Flannery.

Shout-out to Zoom. And thanks for being here. and we will get you both back.


MELBER: I`m going to fit in a break.

And, when we come back, a Pulitzer winner who`s been digging into Trump`s finances for years about what may scare him and why he fought so hard to keep this hidden from federal and state criminal investigators.

Later, Trump rebuked today by a member of his own COVID task force on this school issue.

A lot more ahead in a special edition of THE BEAT.



NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: And I expect Cy Vance to move incredibly fast.

And Pete described Trump as having a little shield left in New York against Cy Vance. It`s not a little shield. It`s a paper-thin shield at best.

And so I think it`s totally possible for all of this to come out before the 2020 election in terms of New York`s prosecutors getting this information and acting on it.

If I`m Donald Trump, I am scared right now.


MELBER: Scared right now.

That is a new key legal point from legal expert Neal Katyal on how the New York DA, Cy Vance, can get Trump`s taxes from all kinds of years, not just the period covered by the Stormy Daniels scandal.

Throughout Donald Trump`s life, though, there`s been a lot of speculation, and some of it quite informed and researched, about just what is lurking in the tax returns.


WARREN: What is Donald Trump hiding in his taxes? Ties to the Russian mob? Favors for foreign businesses?

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Maybe he`s not as rich as he says he is.

We have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks.

GEORGE WILL, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: Perhaps one more reason why we`re not seeing his tax returns, because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs and others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The possibility of money laundering.

SCHIFF: Is there any entanglement with a foreign power that might influence U.S. policy, against our national interests?


MELBER: Many questions and theories.

We turn now to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston. He`s been digging into Donald Trump`s finances for years, and joins us from a nice outdoor setting.

I hope you`re getting sun as you do your hard work, sir.


DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP": Thank you. This is the Tim Burton garden.

The director hired me once to propose a movie about Donald Trump that, sadly, never got made. You can imagine the fun Tim Burton could have with Donald Trump.

MELBER: Yes. Well, you could have Edward Scissorhands try to shred these files, enough that they`d be hard to read.


MELBER: But when you look at those questions and your reporting, and on this night of all nights, a David Cay Johnston kind of night, what is the evidence or information that guides you to your understanding of why he`s hiding them, what might be in there?

JOHNSTON: Well, the New York prosecutors already have Trump`s federal tax information, not the literal return, but the information on them, because the state of New York, like all the state, shares information with the Internal Revenue Service.

What they don`t have are the accounting records of Mazars and the business records of the Trump Organization. Now, if the accounting and business records do not line up with the tax returns, Donald Trump has problems, serious problems.

And if the accounting and business records indicate they have been fabricating deductions or not describing income properly, he`s got a problem.

We all sign our tax return. It`s called a jurat, where we testify, in effect, that this is an honest return. And we know from "The New York Times"` massive, brilliant, completely on-the-money article in the fall of 2018 that there`s clear evidence of Donald Trump engaging in a variety of tax-cheating activities, along with his siblings, in the period up to shortly after his father died.

And we also now know that Mary Trump provided 19 boxes of records to "The New York Times"` reporters, which is how they were able to do a lot of the work they did.

MELBER: Yes, you mentioned that investigative reporting based on primary source documents, which raise many questions about lies, about ethical breaches.

Whether or not they were criminal, state or federal is not, as you know and as we report, answered by that article. It`s part of what would be under investigation.

What do you see happening next, given how much you understand all of these details?

JOHNSTON: Well, as several of the people you had on a moment ago said, Cy Vance is going to mean as quickly as he can to try and proceed with the investigation. Trump is going to try and tie this up.

And since it`s going back to the federal court, where Trump decided to seek his remedies, rather than pursuing it in state court, I think there`s some possibility this will be tied up for a while, quite a bit of possibility.

The more troubling thing in the decisions today is that Justice Robert paid no attention to one of the three committees. Two of the committees have weak claims, but one of them, the House Ways and Means Committee, operates under a section of the Internal Revenue Code that says, tax returns shall be turned over on request.

Trump has the same right. He can look get your tax return any time he want to or mine. And Justice Roberts never cited that statute. He never said the word shall. He conflated the three cases, two weak ones and one soft, and sent them back for further review.

That`s a gift to Donald Trump. It means that will be under litigation, I think, for some time. And he did not uphold a crystal-clear anti-corruption law that has been on the books since 1924.

MELBER: Yes, you make a great point.

We have discussed in our coverage some of the high watermarks of these of these rulings. And I think viewers heard that.

I do think, as you often do, David, you put a spear right in the soft underbelly of the congressional ruling, which seemed to really not want to deal with or get into the hot question of why you wouldn`t get the taxes, when federal law , as you noted, says, you shall hand them over.

Very interesting. I trust we will be discussing this again, a lot more to come.

David Cay Johnston, thank you, sir.

JOHNSTON: Thank you.

MELBER: When we come back, an important COVID update.

Stay with us.


MELBER: Now to an update on the story that is often the top item in our newscast, the coronavirus, total cases passing 3.1 million, the death toll reaching 134,000.

Now, today, the head of the CDC is talking about reopening schools. Donald Trump has hammered the agency`s guidelines within his administration as somehow too tough or expensive. They push social distancing, staggered arrivals, masks, and many things we have come to expect from the CDC.

Now, Mike Pence is saying the CDC will revise them. The CDC director, though, today saying their guidance, scientifically based, remains the same.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: I want to clarify, really, what we`re providing is different reference documents.

So our guidelines are our guidelines. So, I think it`s really important. It`s not a revision of the guidelines. It`s just to provide additional information to help the schools be able to use the guidance that we put forward.


MELBER: Sounds a lot like a rebuttal of Pence and Trump from the CDC.

The rules and guidelines matter, because they can keep us safe. It`s a story we will stay on.

And we will be right back.


MELBER: It`s been quite a busy day at the Supreme Court.

That does it for us tonight.