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Inside The Courtroom Where A Judge Calmly Upheld Congress’ Probe Into Trump’s Finances

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 22: President Donald Trump arrives for a press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House May 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump spoke about Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian inter... WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 22: President Donald Trump arrives for a press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House May 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump spoke about Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He also responded to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying he was engaged in a cover up. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS
May 22, 2019 6:25 p.m.

Manhattan federal judge Edgardo Ramos may have issued a striking rebuke of Trump’s position that it is illegal for Congress to investigate his finances today, but the way he did it was surprising.

I was in the courtroom where Ramos issued his 25-page ruling from the bench, calmly and methodically intoning his way through an opinion that dismantled the President’s legal position.

But before he got to ruling, Ramos held oral arguments with Trump’s personal attorney Patrick Strawbridge and House of Representatives general counsel Douglas Letter.

On the sidelines sat attorneys for Deutsche Bank and Capital One, who remained completely silent throughout the hearing. At one point, Ramos joked with them, asking them why they weren’t talking since they had “come all this way.”

The attorneys grimaced in response.

In the courtroom’s gallery, protestors briefly — albeit silently — interrupted the proceedings, holding signs above their heads that read, alternately, “Impeachment Hearings Now” and “Congress has a right to know.” At one point, Ramos told them to put the signs down.

One of the protestors, clad in a My Chemical Romance t-shirt while holding a “Stop Fighting Congressional Oversight” sign, wound up in a discussion with U.S. marshals about whether he would in fact stop that was, unfortunately, inaudible to this reporter.

But on the substance of the case, Ramos grilled both sides with equal intensity.

His questioning of Strawbridge led the Trump attorney to repeat that he had a problem with Congress investigating the “private finances” of public officials.

Strawbridge ended his portion of the arguments by implicitly accusing the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees of recapitulating the work of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) on the Un-American Activities Committee, citing a Supreme Court decision from the time that cautioned against congressional overreach.

“That statement is no less true today than it was 60 years ago,” he said.

Ramos spent more time with Letter, however, grilling him into conceding that Trump and his family would suffer “irreparable harm” once their financial information was disclosed to Congress and asking over and over again whether the House would be willing to narrow the scope of its subpoena.

Letter said that he could think of no such case where a judge ordered that, and told Ramos at one point “you don’t have the power to do that.”

Throughout the questioning, it was difficult to discern where the judge was leaning. During a brief recess that Ramos called before issuing the ruling, people in the gallery expressed surprise at how oral arguments had gone. Strawbridge grinned as House attorneys appeared deflated.

But Ramos’s 25-page, hour-long bench ruling was a deep rebuke of Trump’s argument. He read his opinion in a monotone, only raising his voice towards the end while saying that the lawsuit was not “serious” in a courthouse sense, though the matter at hand did have “serious political ramifications.”

After issuing his ruling, Ramos asked the gathered attorneys if they had any further statements.

Strawbridge stood up and asked for Ramos to issue a stay of his ruling, pending appeal.

“That application is denied,” the judge replied without hesitation.

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