Did the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overstep its bounds when it ruled that Donald Trump must release details about any negotiations with Russian officials related to the investigation into alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the 2016 election?
These were some of the arguments and counterarguments Thursday as judges on the state’s highest court heard a case that was remanded from one of its chambers to determine whether alleged collusion by the president and other defendants should keep them behind bars for violating Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws.
Five people who pleaded guilty in connection with the probe against the Trump campaign had appealed to the state high court, arguing that the lower court was wrong to grant the president’s motion to stay the defendants’ appeal of their sentences so the case could be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
If the high court upholds the rulings, the plaintiffs will lose an appeal that could put them in prison for up to five years.
The questioning by justices was intense on both sides, reflecting the fact that the case has become a flashpoint in a furious debate over Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The Supreme Court’s review of the merits of the request to stay the appeal is expected to take weeks or longer.
The case “replays a hallmark of this theater of the absurd in the court of public opinion,” Chief Justice Thomas Saylor, who sits on the court, said in his opening remarks. He dismissed the argument by the defendants’ lawyers that they were facing baseless allegations of corruption, saying that the charges “is an abuse of process.”
The trial judge found that the defendants violated a 1978 campaign-finance law known as “aggregate contribution limits,” which the judge said could not be reconciled with Trump’s statements at the time that he was not obligated to disclose campaign fundraising information.
As Chief Justice Saylor put it: “That’s classic Trump. What I found was a conspiracy here by Trump,” particularly among his campaign manager and former campaign adviser, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, an adviser to Mr. Trump, and Roger Stone, a political consultant and confidant to Mr. Trump.