Criminal investigation and court battles await Donald Trump

A few kilometers (miles) from the Tower that bears his last name and where Donald Trump began his campaign to be president, prosecutors in New York are working on an investigation into the president’s business that could affect him long after he leaves office in January.

The investigation spearheaded by Manhattan federal prosecutor Cyrus Vance Jr. is one of several legal entanglements that are likely to escalate once Trump leaves the White House, because he will no longer have power or immunity from the courts.

Trump faces two inquiries from New York state as to whether he misled tax authorities, banks or business partners. Two women he allegedly sexually assaulted are suing him. Some Democrats are demanding that a federal campaign finance probe be reactivated, apparently canceled by Attorney General William Barr.

It is unknown whether any of the investigations have collected enough evidence to charge Trump with a crime.

Prosecuting a former president may be unprecedented in a country that has sought, since its founding, to put aside the alleged transgressions of the outgoing commander-in-chief for the sake of a peaceful transition of power.

Due to the country’s acute polarization in 2020, would a court battle ultimately be seen as political revenge? It’s a difficult calculation, ”said Meena Bose, executive director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University.

Trump has said he has an “absolute right” to forgive himself of any federal crime, but the concept remains untested because no president has tried. According to a 1974 Justice Department opinion, presidents cannot be pardoned because that would violate the “fundamental rule that no one can be a judge in his or her own case.”

The president has used his clemency authority before to help friends and prominent defendants. He commuted the sentencing of his longtime friend Roger Stone in July and that of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevicha in February and has hinted that he could do the same in other cases before his presidency ends.

The Vance investigation is particularly problematic for Trump, because it involves possible state-level charges that could not be dismissed with a presidential pardon.

Vance, who is a Democrat, has not disclosed the details of his inquiry, citing jury secrecy standards, but his office has said in court documents that it is related to public reports of “extensive and prolonged criminal conduct in the Trump Organization ”.

Former Trump attorney and personal aide, Michael Cohen, told Congress that Trump often inflated the value of his assets when dealing with creditors or potential business partners, but deflated them when it suited him for tax purposes.

During Trump’s time in office, the progress of the investigation has been hampered in court due to a dispute over whether prosecutors could have access to the president’s tax returns or whether he has any immunity from an investigation. state. An appeal related to a judicial dispute over records is now in the United States Supreme Court.

Vance’s office declined to comment. It is unknown if the long-standing investigation is close to completion, or months or years from any resolution.

The Associated Press left a message for a Trump attorney seeking comment. Trump once described Vance’s investigation as “a continuation of the witch hunt, the largest witch hunt in history.”

New York State Secretary of Justice Letitia James is also investigating whether Trump’s company lied about the value of its assets to get tax credits or benefits, although her investigation is civil, not criminal. Trump’s son Eric Trump spoke with investigators on video last month after losing a court fight to defer his statement until after the election.

There were new revelations Thursday that James and Vance also subpoenaed documents related to Trump’s company tax deductions in connection with business consulting fees paid to their daughter, Ivanka Trump.

Part of Vance’s criminal investigation corresponds to payments made during the Trump campaign in 2016 to the porn actress Stormy Daniels and the model Karen McDougal so that they did not speak publicly of the alleged extramarital relations they had with him.

Cohen pleaded guilty to fixing the payments, which federal prosecutors in Manhattan say amounted to illegal gifts to the Trump campaign. Prosecutors reported in court documents that Trump directed Cohen’s actions but did not press charges. Trump has denied those relationships and reported that any payments made were a personal matter, not a campaign expense.

The Justice Department has a longstanding policy that it is unconstitutional to prosecute an incumbent president in federal court.

There is also the possibility that a Democrat-led Justice Department could pursue issues that were left without charges in Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, such as claims that Trump obstructed justice.

President-elect Joe Biden, who is a Democrat, has said that he will not order his Justice Department to terminate Trump charges, but that he will not get in the way of any investigations he undertakes either.

“I’m not going to make that individual judgment,” Biden told reporters in August.

Some Democrats have warned that prosecuting Trump could anger the nearly 74 million Americans who voted for him, complicating Biden’s commitment to bridging political divisions in the nation. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is a Democrat, has warned of the “possible cost to the nation” of prosecuting a former president.

Richard Nixon was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, after he resigned in 1974 over the Watergate affair in an attempt by Ford to neutralize the aftermath of a major political scandal. Bill Clinton, on his last day in office, reached an agreement with special counsel Robert Ray to avoid prosecution for perjury charges that had led to his impeachment. Clinton agreed to have his attorney’s license suspended for five years and to pay a $ 25,000 fine for lying in a sexual harassment trial.

Paul Rosenzweig, a former prominent attorney in the Clinton investigation, argues that potential criminal conduct stemming from Trump’s time as a businessman could make him the exception to the practice of not prosecuting a former president.

“We have never had a president who has been credibly accused of criminal activity before his presidency,” he said.

Once he leaves the presidency, Trump will no longer be able to attribute to his charged agent a motive for delaying civil lawsuits, such as those brought by E. Jean Carroll, a former advisory columnist for a magazine and Summer Zervos, restorer and participant in his former television show “The Apprentice”.

Carrol claims that Trump raped her in the mid-1990s at a department store in New York. Her lawsuit claims that Trump’s rejection of the indictment, including saying he was “totally lying” to sell a memoir, defamed her. Carrol is looking for a sample of Trump’s DNA to see if it matches material found on a dress she claims she was wearing when the alleged assault occurred.

Zervos claims that Trump kissed and groped her when she tried to talk to him about her career in 2007. Trump rejected the accusations and retweeted a message calling Zervos’s claims a hoax.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that Zervos’s libel suit should be deferred until he leaves the presidency. That will happen in nine weeks.