Bring Charges or Keep Quiet
Terry H. Schwadron
May 21, 2021
We now know that the New York Attorney General’s office is pursuing the possibility of criminal prosecution against The Trump Organization. It says so.
Despite all the speculation, we don’t know what that means — or what it should mean for Donald Trumps evident campaign to return to the White House and a Republican effort to win back Congress.
What we do know is that Atty. Gen. Letitia James is assigning two prosecutors to join the announced criminal probe by Manhattan Dist. Atty. Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and keeping a smaller piece of investigation itself. From all the parts and pieces being reported, it appears that what is under focus are various possible financial frauds involving state and local taxes that could result in charges.
To be compliant with notification procedures, the office told The Trump Organization, apparently at least a month ago, that the focus had turned to crimes rather than only on potential civil violations, though you wouldn’t know that from Trump’s reaction to an abrupt resumption of attacks he sees aimed at him.
To those waiting to see Donald Trump in a prison jumpsuit, this development is described as ominous. To hear the pundits talk, with absolutely no information at hand, Trump is ready to throw his own employees and his children under the bus to protect himself. But unless there are actual charges, this sounds like bureaucratic notification rather than a looming threat of justice. Trump himself has attacked both investigations as politically motivated.
Indeed, we already know that federal, state and Manhattan investigators are trying to put pressure on Trump Organization financial officer Allen Weisselberg to flip on Trump and his company.
As with much-publicized information about Rudy Giuliani as Trump’s personal envoy and lawyer sent to the Ukraine to find dirt on then-candidate Joe Biden, there’s a lot more smoke here than flame.
If they have the goods, file charges. If they don’t, I don’t understand the publicity campaign about the possibility of criminal charges.
What We Know
The district attorney has subpoenaed records from. Weisselberg’s bank, an apartment owned by the Weisselberg family and the private school in Manhattan that his grandchildren have attended. Vance and company already have several years’ worth of Trump’s complicated tax records.
Generally speaking, we understand that investigators and prosecutors have looked at differences in legal valuations of properties that Trump and his company have used in financial deals. The suggestion is that Trump valued properties high when it came to getting loans and low in filing taxes — all under signatures that attest to truth.
The rest is bureaucratic, right? The attorney general and district attorney have been operating on independent tracks, and now will be a single operation. OK, what is it here that we need to know?
Is Trump actually nearing an actual criminal charge? Even if his company is found to have committed fraud by overvaluing and undervaluing properties, can’t we expect that Trump will defend himself. If anything, won’t this put pressure on, say, Weisselberg and Eric Trump, who signed affidavits in these matters denying any problems.
Meanwhile, Trump is also facing a criminal investigation in Georgia, where the district attorney in Fulton County is considering attempts to reverse the outcome of the presidential election in the state.
There are at least three lawsuits involving Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection, plus whatever is pending from the Justice Department. There is the matter of whether Trump claimed payoffs to Stormy Daniels for sex as a campaign expense, and Trump faces unpleasant legal issues from unrelated civil suits filed over allegations of defamation in a sexual assault case.
From all that we know about Trump and his ability to distort reality, criminal charges probably will just add to his baseless campaign about election fraud to make him yet more credible to the Trump base voter.
The Jan. 6 Commission vote
The House voted yesterday to pass the bill setting up a Jan. 6 commission over the objections of Trump and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, with a good number of Republican defections. The outcome of the vote is less important that the need among Republican leaders to circle the political wagons behind an increasingly legally beleaguered Trump. So far, the Senate once again now seems poised to invoke its partisan intention for gridlock rather than sunshine.
But the only credible reason here for Republicans to oppose the commission is to protect Trump from more legal problems. If Republicans want hearings about “antifa,” they could have had them.
Legal liability is the connective tissue between the New York prosecutorial efforts and whether Republicans will ever stand up to Trump.
There apparently actually is nothing in the Constitution that stops a convicted felon from becoming president, just state laws that stop convicts from voting. The idea of pending criminal charges hardly will stop Trump from re-starting his MAGA rallies and public appearances, any more than Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is holding back from public Trump-backing gatherings while prosecutors are putting together a set of criminal charges against him.
It’s enough to make me wonder whether having state prosecutors lined up on the other side is providing some kind of political street cred. You never know when Trump might want to start rapping.