Trump's lawyers argue he can't be charged while in office — even if he shoots someone

WASHINGTON — A panel of three federal appeals court judges appeared to be unreceptive on Wednesday to President Donald Trump's claim that local prosecutors cannot get his financial records as long as he's in office.

The long-standing view of the Justice Department is that a president cannot be indicted while in office. William Consovoy, President Trump's lawyer, told the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that the immunity extends to the entire criminal justice process, including grand jury subpoenas for documents.

Manhattan's district attorney obtained a grand jury subpoena in August for three years' worth of financial records from the Trump Organization and eight year's worth of Trump-related business records — including Trump's personal tax records — from the accounting firm Mazars USA. Prosecutors are investigating whether Mr. Trump or his company broke any state laws when they reimbursed former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for making hush-money payments.

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Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, left, and David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, are sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Fiona Hill, funcionaria del aparato de seguridad nacional de EEUU nacida en Inglaterra, declara ante la cámara baja el 21 de noviembre en Washington. Dijo que EEUU le "ofreció oportunidades que nunca hubiera tenido en Inglaterra”, donde su "claro acento de la clase obrera” británica hubiera impedido su progreso profesional. En EEUU "nunca me relegó", señaló. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 21 2019: Fiona Hill, former official at the National Security Council specialising in the former Soviet Union and Russian and European affairs, at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine attends the Open Hearings on the Impeachment of President Donald Trump of the House Intelligence Committee in Washington.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 21 2019: David Holmes, U.S. Department of State official who serves as a counsellor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine attends the Open Hearings on the Impeachment of President Donald Trump of the House Intelligence Committee in Washington.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
David Holmes, political counselor at the U.S Embassy in Kiev, testifies next to and Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, in front of the House Intelligence Committee, as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill, in Washington, U.S., November 21, 2019. Alex Brandon/Pool via Reuters
David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and former White House national security aide Fiona Hill, walk to their seats to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Ambassador Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, center, appears before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland reacts to questioning from U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) while testifying before a House Intelligence Committee hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify to the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, during the second public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, accompanied by her attorney Lawrence Robbins, right, returns from a break to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington, in the second public impeachment hearing on President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington, in the second public impeachment hearing on President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Career Foreign Service officer George Kent and top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, right, are sworn in to testify during the first public impeachment hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday Nov. 13, 2019 in Washington.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
FILE PHOTO: George Kent and William Taylor are sworn in during public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill in Washington
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr. testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the first public impeachment hearings in more than two decades, House Democrats are making a case that President Donald Trump committed extortion, bribery or coercion by trying to enlist Ukraine to investigate political rivals in exchange for military aid and a White House meeting that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky sought with Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The House Ways and Means Committee hearing room, the largest hearing room in the House, is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, will use this room to hold the first public session in its probe of whether President Donald Trump violated his oath of office by coercing Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his family. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2019 -- George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, testifies before the U.S. House Committee on Intelligence during the impeachment hearings on President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, Nov. 13, 2019. The U.S. House Committee on Intelligence held the first public hearing Wednesday since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump in September to determine whether he abused his office in his interactions with Ukraine. (Photo by Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2019 -- George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, testifies before the U.S. House Committee on Intelligence during the impeachment hearings on President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, Nov. 13, 2019. The U.S. House Committee on Intelligence held the first public hearing Wednesday since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump in September to determine whether he abused his office in his interactions with Ukraine. (Photo by Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images)
US career diplomat Christopher Anderson arrives to review his testimony as part of the House Impeachment inquiries on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on November 7, 2019. - The first open impeachment hearings into US President Donald Trump will begin next week, US House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said November 6, 2019, as the investigation heads into a highly anticipated public phase. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Vote Tallies are displayed as House members vote on a resolution on impeachment procedure to move forward into the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. The resolution passed 232-196. The resolution will authorize the next stage of impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, including establishing the format for open hearings, giving the House Committee on the Judiciary the final recommendation on impeachment, and allowing President Trump and his lawyers to attend events and question witnesses. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi delivers remarks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. Later today The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (C), speaks during a news conference after the close of a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sha Hanting/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. - On October 30, the House Rules Committee agreed by a party line vote to put the impeachment resolution up for approval before the full House of Representatives on October 31. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: (L-R) House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Oversight and Government Reform Committee Acting Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) hold a news conference following the passage of a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) presides over a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry centered on U.S. President Donald Trump October 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. The resolution, passed by a vote of 232-196, creates the legal framework for public hearings, procedures for the White House to respond to evidence and the process for consideration of future articles of impeachment by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Vote Tallies are displayed as House members vote on a resolution on impeachment procedure to move forward into the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. The resolution passed 232-196. The resolution will authorize the next stage of impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, including establishing the format for open hearings, giving the House Committee on the Judiciary the final recommendation on impeachment, and allowing President Trump and his lawyers to attend events and question witnesses. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
White House Russia expert Timothy Morrison arrives for a deposition for the House Impeachment inquiries at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 31, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks during a news conference with other Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Diplomat added significant ballast to the allegation Trump was trying to extort Ukraine into ginning up bad news about Biden. The impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump has heard some extraordinary testimony over the last month. From the first mention of Trump’s desired “deliverable” from Ukraine, successive layers of witnesses and documents have added to an indictment of the president’s conduct that only gets heavier, as Trump howls his defenses to the wind. On Tuesday, things got even worse for Trump – much worse, as many saw it. For almost 10 hours, William Taylor, a former military officer and career diplomat with the rank of ambassador under the last four presidents, spoke with congressional investigators about how the Trump administration has been conducting a two-track foreign policy in Ukraine, where Taylor is in charge of the US embassy. We don’t yet know most of what was said. The current public record of the closed-door testimony comprises only a copy of Taylor’s 15-page opening statement – and the spectacle of the ashen faces of members of Congress as they filed out from the hearing. “This testimony is a sea change,” congressman Stephen Lynch told reporters. In his testimony, Taylor explained his discovery of an “irregular, informal policy channel” by which the Trump administration was pursuing objectives in Ukraine “running contrary to the goals of longstanding US policy”. What the “informal channel” wanted – and briefly obtained, Taylor said – was for the Ukrainian president to agree to go on CNN to announce an investigation of Joe Biden, whom Trump sees, perhaps mistakenly, as a top 2020 threat. The Trump administration held up “much-needed military assistance” to Ukraine in an effort to extract the Ukrainian statement, Taylor said. “More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the US assistance,” he noted. In a process scrambled so far by misleading Trump tweets and relying in part on anonymous witnesses, the testimony of Taylor, a Vietnam veteran respected in both parties with 50 years of public service behind him, landed as a potential game-changer. It was just the kind of testimony that seemed to answer even the most stubborn demands of Trump loyalists such as Senator Lindsey Graham for additional, definitive proof that Trump was turning the broad power of his office to his own narrow devices. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” Graham said at the weekend. The senator denied in a Fox News appearance Tuesday that Taylor had delivered such evidence. But Taylor added significant ballast to the allegation that Trump was attempting to extort Ukraine into ginning up bad news about Biden. What Taylor added was a careful stitchwork of detail, describing who was working to extort the Ukrainians, how they were going about it, how their aims clashed with stated US policy, how the Ukrainians responded, and what people said to him about it at the time. Taylor made clear he has the memos and other records to back up his story. And he exposed the slapstick clumsiness of the Trump flunkies working the “informal channel” – notably Gordon Sondland, the hotelier and Trump mega-donor turned ambassador. “Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman,” Taylor testified. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” But “the explanation made no sense”, Taylor argued. “The Ukrainians did not ‘owe’ President Trump anything, and holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was ‘crazy’.” Reaction to Taylor’s testimony generally fell between shock and dumbfoundedness. “I cannot overstate how damaging this Ambassador Taylor testimony is to Trump,” tweeted Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general. “Taylor’s statement is a completely devastating document,” wrote Susan Hennessey, the executive director of the Lawfare site. “I know they will find a way but it’s just impossible to imagine how Republicans in Congress will be able to defend this. It is well beyond what most assumed was the worst-case scenario.” The White House issued a statement Tuesday night impugning Taylor, a Trump appointee, as part of a cadre of “radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the constitution”. But the taller the evidence against him, the smaller Trump’s protests seemed. Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar, a presidential candidate, challenged Republicans to take a stand. “After Diplomat Taylor’s testimony you can no longer question whether this happened,” she tweeted. “The question is if you choose to follow the law or be part of the cover-up.” Trump huddled Tuesday night with members of his legal team, the Wall Street Journal reported, and he urged congressional Republicans to do more to rebut the impeachment inquiry. But there were reportedly no talking points, and no one knew quite what they were supposed to say, or whom to take that direction from. Notably absent from the meeting of Trump’s advisors was Rudy Giuliani, whom Taylor describes as running the shadow operation in Ukraine. “The official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr Giuliani,” Taylor said. He described a seemingly free hand for Giuliani, whose foreign clients include or have included Ukraine-based antagonists of current and former US officials, to open and close diplomatic channels and to direct US policy as he pleased. One of the weightiest impacts of Taylor’s testimony might have to do with the senior US officials it names. Taylor took his concerns about Trump’s alleged attempt to extort Ukraine, he said, to both national security adviser John Bolton and to secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Bolton, who has since resigned, reacted with outrage and frustration. Pompeo, who is eyeing a US Senate bid in his home state of Kansas, apparently greeted Taylor’s warning with silence. “This is not the story of corruption in Ukraine,” tweeted the political strategist David Axelrod. “It’s the story of corruption at the highest levels of the US government. It’s the story of extortion, with US military aid to a besieged ally held hostage to the president’s personal political project.” Trump’s critics say the story is plain: that the president twisted the immense powers of his office to personal ends, in betrayal of constitution and country. When it comes time to prove it, Taylor’s testimony is likely to be front and center.
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference with other Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
ARCHIVO - En esta foto de archivo del 30 de noviembre de 2018, la entonces embajadora de EEUU en Ucrania, Marie L. Yovanovitch, habla en Kiev. Yovanovich declara el viernes 11 de octubre de 2019 ante las comisiones del Congreso que investigan al presidente Donald Trump antes de posiblemente iniciarle juicio político. (AP Foto/Efrem Lukatsky)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 17: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, arrives to the Capitol for his deposition as part of the House's impeachment inquiry on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - October 22: The acting Ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor, Jr., departs after meeting with the House Intelligence committee for their impeachment inquiry, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Ambassador William Taylor is escorted by U.S. Capitol Police as he arrives to testify before House committees as part of the Democrats' impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Former White House advisor on Russia, Fiona Hill, center, leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, after testifying before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, arrives on Capitol Hill, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Washington, as she is scheduled to testify before congressional lawmakers on Friday as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - In this March 6, 2019 file photo, then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, sits during her meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, Ukraine. (Mikhail Palinchak, Presidential Press Service Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the House impeachment investigation during a formal signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at the White House in Washington, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Committee speaks to the media before a closed-door meeting regarding the ongoing impeachment inquiry against US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol October 8, 2019 in Washington,DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, of Utah, addresses the media at Midvale Senior Citizens Center Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Midvale, Utah. McAdams is changing his position to support the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. He said Friday he has not made a decision on whether the president should be impeached, but he supports investigating what he calls serious allegations. McAdams was previously one of a small handful of undecided House Democrats. He says he changed his mind because the Trump administration is unlikely to cooperate with an investigation unless it's conducted as an impeachment inquiry. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Staunch Trump ally Sen. Chuck Grassley pushes back against calls to out whistleblower
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., listens as Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and other House Democrats discuss H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which passed in the House but is being held up in the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters after the Trump administration blocked U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from giving testimony in the House of Representatives' impeachment investigation of Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 01: Tourists make photographs inside the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on October 01, 2019 in Washington, DC. Under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the House of Representatives has opened an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump following revelation that a whistleblower filed a complaint that Trump was seeking damaging information about a political opponent from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30 : President Donald J. Trump talks to reporters about the whistleblower after participating in a ceremonial Swearing-In of the Secretary of Labor Gene Scalia in the Oval Office at the White House on Monday, Sept 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - OCTOBER 01: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media on October 1, 2019 in Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine has been at the core of a political storm in U.S. politics since the release of a whistleblower's complaint suggesting U.S. President Donald Trump, at the expense of U.S. foreign policy, pressured Ukraine to investigate Trump's rival, Joe Biden, and Biden's son, Hunter. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 31: Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., walks by protesters outside the Capitol after the House vote on an impeachment inquiry resolution on Thursday, October 31, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on September 24, 2019 shows US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, on September 24, 2019 and US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, September 20, 2019. - Amid mounting allegations of abuse of power by the US President, Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives, the first step in a process that could ultimately lead to Trump's removal from office. (Photos by Mandel NGAN and SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN,SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., steps away from a podium after reading a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to audience applause after his address to the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to address the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
WASHINGTON, DC - September 24: Surrounded by journalists, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) emerges from a meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, before the delivers a speech concerning a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Tuesday September 24, 2019. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Members of the White House press corps - holding in the Trump Bar at Trump Tower - watch U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) live on television as she announces an impeachment investigation of U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, New York, U.S. September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump ATTENDS a bilateral meeting with Iraq's President Barham Salih on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks to news reporters following an impeachment proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) walks through a House corridor following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL.) speaks to news reporters following an Impeachment Proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 1125 -- Pictured: Host Jimmy Fallon as Donald Trump during the "Trump U.N. Speech" Cold Open on September 24, 2019 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Protesters with "Kremlin Annex" call to impeach President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to the media in response to an announcement by Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at the Capitol Building September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry today after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) walks with her press secretary, Connor Joseph, to a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Spanberger is one of seven freshman members of the House with national intelligence or military backgrounds who recently spoke out in an opinion piece calling for an investigation of Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Reporters and congressional staff members wait outside a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol where formal impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump were announced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Reporters crowd around Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., as he leaves the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on impeachment of President Trump on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, arrives for the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on impeachment of President Trump on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Protesters with Kremlin Annex with a light sign that reads "NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW" call to impeach President Donald Trump in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) and other lawmakers speak to the media after the House Intelligence Committee held an impeachment hearing with acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor and State Department deputy assistant secretary, George Kent in the Longworth House Office Building on Wednesday November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Cohen, now serving a three-year federal prison sentence, admitted to paying Stormy Daniels to prevent her from publicly claiming, during the presidential campaign, that she once had a sexual relationship with Mr. Trump — an allegation he has repeatedly denied.

Carey Dunne, New York District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.'s general counsel, said the president's position is too absolute.

There could be examples where a state should be able to conduct a criminal investigation of a sitting president, "if, for example, he did pull out a handgun and shoot someone on Fifth Avenue."

Asked about that, Consovoy said a president could be charged with such a crime once he was out of office or if he was impeached and removed from office. "This is not a permanent immunity," he said.

"I'm talking about while in office. Nothing could be done? That's your position?" asked Judge Denny Chin.

"That is correct," Consovoy said.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump first raised the scenario what would happen if he shot someone, but not with any reference to legal immunity.

Trump said at the time, "My people are so smart. And you know what else they say about my people? The polls? They say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's like incredible.”

Even assuming a president cannot be indicted, the appeals court judges questioned whether that immunity applies to earlier stages in the criminal justice process and noted that President Richard Nixon turned over White House tapes in 1974 in response to a grand jury subpoena.

Trump's legal team has also said that subjecting a president to a criminal investigation would be a distraction from his official duties. But that argument was also greeted skeptically.

"Where is the distraction if the subpoena is served on his accountants? The president doesn't have to do anything to comply with that subpoena," Chin asked.

Dunne told the court that the president's claim is too broad.

"There is no privilege for tax returns, whether it's the president or anyone else in this country," he said. "He may view them as embarrassing or sensitive. But tax returns do, in fact, get subpoenaed all the time in financial investigations."

Dunne said the district attorney is required by law to respect the confidentiality of the records it seeks and could not even turn them over if Congress asked for them.

Based on their questions, the judges seemed to be well aware that they're being asked to venture into uncharted legal territory. No court has yet ruled on the reach of presidential immunity in criminal cases.

At the end of Wednesday's courtroom argument, Judge Robert Katzmann expressed what everyone in the courtroom was undoubtedly thinking — whatever the ruling is, the case is headed to the Supreme Court.

"We have the feeling that you may be seeing each other again in Washington," he said.

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