STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Why did a federal judge rule against the president today? The judge in New York ruled that President Trump must give up multiple years of tax returns to New York state authorities. These returns are considered evidence in a state investigation of the president's business dealings going back to before he took office. Andrea Bernstein is covering this story. She is co-host of WNYC's Trump, Inc. podcast and has been reading the ruling by Judge Victor Marrero. Good morning.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Who wants the tax returns exactly?
BERNSTEIN: So the Manhattan district attorney wants the tax returns for an investigation he is doing into whether Trump or third parties or his business committed felonies in New York by falsifying business records. And this goes back to the investigation into the hush money payments into Stormy Daniels. So they had been conducting a grand jury investigation. They had been actually getting documents from The Trump Organization. But when they said, we want the tax returns, Trump's lawyers jumped in and made very broad claims of presidential immunity about criminal investigations, which the judge today rejected.
INSKEEP: So much has happened that I'll just remind people that Stormy Daniels was a woman who said that she had an affair with the president or the future president, and that he paid money to cover it up in ways that are now subject of investigation. So there's this 75-page ruling in which the judge takes on this very, very broad claim of presidential immunity from criminal proceedings.
BERNSTEIN: Right. And I was in the courtroom when this case was argued, and the judge did not necessarily tip off that his feelings were so strong. But the opinion begins, the president asserts an extraordinary claim, and it goes on from there to say that the president is asserting absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind.
Now, you remember that the reason that Robert Mueller did not indict President Trump or said he couldn't indict President Trump was because of a Justice Department policy about criminal indictment. But what the judge said here regarding the Manhattan DA case is that that Justice Department decision does not apply to any investigation whatsoever in any jurisdiction, and that allowing that to obtain would enable - and I'm quoting from the decision here - "enable both the president and any accomplices to escape being brought to justice." So very little ambiguity in this decision.
INSKEEP: So the president's lawyers were arguing that even asking for documents is too much to demand of the president of the United States. And the judge writes, "This court cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process as being countenanced by the nation's constitutional plan." Not much doubt about that.
BERNSTEIN: Right. And he goes on to discuss...
INSKEEP: I mean, not much doubt about what he means - is what I mean to say.
BERNSTEIN: (Laughter) Right. He goes on to discuss the nation's founders and how - that they specifically said a president does not have limitless powers and how, when they founded the Constitution and wrote the Constitution, they were very careful to say that this is not a monarchy where the leader of the republic has absolute power. So there is a great deal of constitutional discussion here. The judge also says, look - this is a local criminal investigation. Grand jury secrecy rules apply. There is no irreparable harm to the president if this investigation proceeds at this time because it's not a public investigation.
INSKEEP: I'm now trying to figure out - of course, the president's lawyers have already said they will appeal. But exactly what - if this ruling were to stand, who's supposed to do what? The IRS has the president's tax returns. I guess the president's lawyers have tax returns. Who's supposed to turn over what and in what manner?
BERNSTEIN: Right. So the DA has asked both The Trump Organization for records and the president's accountants, Mazars, for the tax returns. So as of now, this morning, they're supposed to turn over those records. The judge has dismissed the case, and there is no stay. So until we hear from the Second Circuit, that's the status.
INSKEEP: Oh, no stay, meaning that unless they very quickly get in there and get their appeal and get a stay from a higher court, this has got to go ahead.
INSKEEP: Andrea, thanks so much.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Andrea Bernstein is co-host of WNYC's "Trump, Inc." podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.