Are Criminal Investigations Getting Close to Donald Trump?

When it comes to the ongoing criminal investigations of Donald Trump in New York and Georgia, an understandably impatient public just wants the outcome. Are the walls finally closing in on him, or are these probes just crumbling? In more prosaic terms: does Donald Trump have a criminal walk and a jail cell in his future?

Since Trump’s presidency began, every revelation of his corruption has led many of us to say things like “the walls are closing.” Such proclamations were hopeful, but also based on stubborn observation. We had seen so much rot from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election through the two Senate impeachment trials. Surely something would stick. But these statements were palliatives, not prophecies. When it comes to Trump, we experts are no better at predicting the future than a Magic 8 Ball answering “SIGNS POINT TO YES” in response to the repeated pleas of a whispering child.

Instead of guessing, let’s look at and draw reasonable conclusions about known national and local criminal investigations as well as potential ones the US Department of Justice could or should pursue.

There’s the criminal case that Cy Vance Jr., the outgoing Manhattan prosecutor, is pursuing. Recall that at the end of June, after an investigation of more than two years, the grand jury that Vance called indicted the Trump Corporation and one of its affiliates for an alleged tax fraud scheme that began in 2005. It is were informal payments to executives that deprived city, state and federal tax authorities of over $ 1 million.

The alleged bagman and grand beneficiary was CFO Allen Weisselberg, who has been charged with criminal tax evasion, robbery, falsifying business records and conspiring to defraud the government. Although not a certified public accountant, Weisselberg was Donald and his father Fred’s longtime trusted man, tied to notorious family businesses for half a century. Dare I say he’s the human equivalent of the mall accounting firm of the late con artist Bernie Madoff? Madoff’s auditor for that firm, David Friehling, pleaded guilty in 2009, but he cooperated with the federal government, avoiding jail time.

Will Weisselberg sing like Friehling? Maybe not, but others could, including the uncharged co-conspirator named in the indictment or others who Weisselberg’s lawyer Bryan Skarlatos believe will soon be indicted in this case. Any of them should consider telling the truth in exchange for some level of immunity. And there may be strong evidence from those not believed to be involved in the crime, like Trump’s longtime personal assistant Rhona Graff, who could reveal her boss’s thinking.

Since Trump has been careful to avoid putting his thoughts in writing, how will the “special” grand jury charged with deciding whether to indict him be convinced that he intended or conspired to break the law? Such proof will take time from Vance.

That said, this covert tax evasion scheme is just a amuse bouche, according to those who have read the full menu, such as former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen (who called the June indictment “the tip of the iceberg”). The much more satisfactory entry would be evidence that Trump engaged in bank and tax fraud involving the false valuation of his organization’s various real estate holdings. These are also the subject of an active investigation by Letitia James, Attorney General of New York, together with Vance. These schemes involved Trump raising prices on paper when it suited him and deflating values ​​when it was to his advantage, such as paying less tax on properties that had been fraudulently devalued. Cohen described this in detail under oath before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in February 2019.

Vance is gaining ground here. A week ago, in a court file, the district attorney revealed that he had lined up two cooperating witnesses and millions of files inside the Trump organization and various accounting firms, banks, real estate companies and law firms that did business with her. . Of particular note are the documents of Charles Martabano. He represented Trump in connection with Seven Springs, a Westchester property owned by Trump that Cohen cited as one of the assets the Trump Organization reduced for tax purposes. Vance also has evidence from the FBI and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Treasury Department office known as “FinCEN,” which monitors suspicious financial transactions. Additionally, he has records of Keith Davidson, who helped arrange secret money payments to prevent women from speaking out during elections about their affairs with Trump. Attorney General James is also progressing well. In early September, a judge ordered the Trump Organization to comply with its subpoenas and report by October 15 on its efforts. Failure to comply will result in the Trump Organization appointing a third party (approved by James) to oversee the production of the requested documents.

While this is all set in New York City, there is also evidence against Trump’s mounting in Fulton County, Georgia, where the district attorney is investigating possible Trump interference in the election vote count. 2020 presidential election – all that pressure the president has put on officials to “find” thousands more votes. (The Brookings Institution just released a report that provides a detailed examination of the state’s potential criminal charges in this case .)

And what about federal criminal charges? As I have said before, I am losing confidence that United States Attorney General Merrick Garland will act on the specific plane of the obstruction of justice charges against Trump as outlined in the Mueller Report. And it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a conflict of interest that requires Garland to appoint a special advocate or special advocates for the various criminal investigations: How the Department of Justice can defend Donald Trump in the defamation case brought by E. Jean Carroll (because of his status as president in office when it was launched) and also sue him?

As I wonder what’s going on inside the DOJ, I look at my calendar. It’s been almost five years since Trump’s attorney, Cohen, paid Stormy Daniels $ 130,000 in secret money. Buying his silence was equivalent to a contribution to a campaign, but the limit for individual donations directly to a campaign is $ 2,700. In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to the campaign based on payments he said he made at Trump’s request. Trump is named “Individual-1” in the prosecution documents. The statute of limitations for most federal crimes is five years from commission, but in some circumstances this clock can start later when the crime has been discovered. To be sure, a prosecutor would present a strong case as soon as possible.

So when will we know if justice is coming for Trump, or will he get away with it all? I can only shake my Magic 8 Ball: “REPLY HAZY, TRY AGAIN”.

Mark M. Gagnon