Trump in NY mess but DOJ lets him off federal hook
Trump as he left the White House on Jan. 20, no longer able to use his office to protect himself from criminal probes including ones that potentially carry jail time. He could well be the only former president of the U.S. ever to be criminally charged and ever to end up in jail. Alex Brandon | The Associated Press

NEW YORK—If former GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump thought he faced legal trouble before when the House impeached him twice in two years, but the GOP-run Senate failed to convict him, well, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

That’s because Trump’s now out of office and, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller pointed out long ago, thus open to criminal prosecution. And New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and state Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James appear to have that, and Trump, in their sights.

Trump is in trouble despite a puzzling decision by Democratic President Joe Biden’s Justice Department to try to keep the wraps on an entire two-year-old memo from DOJ to Trump Attorney General Bill Barr which said Trump didn’t obstruct justice in the Russian election interference probe.

Barr’s statement was a lie.

Mueller, testifying before Congress about his 446-page report on the Russian interference investigation, had bluntly said so.

Asked by Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., if he would have indicted Trump for obstruction, had a 20-year-old DOJ policy banning indictments of sitting presidents not gotten in the way, Mueller’s one-word answer was “Yes.”

The criminal probes in New York, though, involve not Russia but Trump’s financial finagling.

Vance is convening a special grand jury to sit for three days a week for six months—an unusually long time, indicating the complexity and extent of the case—to investigate whether Trump, his company, and his executives should be indicted on criminal charges, especially fraud.

And they’ve got the evidence to work with: After long legal battles he eventually won against Trump, Vance’s probers, including one who previously disentangled Mafia finances, are reviewing his financial records. The object: To determine if Trump, his businesses, and his execs committed bank fraud and received tax breaks illegally in the years before the real estate mogul entered the Oval Office. Vance’s office has been probing those deals for two years.

Prior published reports show Trump received special conservation easements for his suburban New York properties under suspicious circumstances. He also misvalued his properties for real estate tax purposes. Both, especially the latter, are potentially criminal fraud.

Trump, as usual, is denouncing the probe as a partisan “witch hunt.” But he isn’t offering evidence in his own defense, either.

James has a parallel investigation going about Trump’s company and foundation finances. Her office and Vance’s are finally cooperating with each other. Details of what they’re sharing have yet to be revealed.

Plus, James said on May 19, what had been a civil investigation of the Trump Organization is now a criminal one, though she didn’t say why.

Meanwhile, Trump got some cover from the Biden Justice Department. On May 25, it told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson it would appeal her ruling ordering release of the entire April 2019 memo to Barr giving him reasons Trump could not be indicted for obstruction of justice in the Russian election interference investigation.

The memo, DOJ said, covered “internal deliberations” there. Releasing all of it would produce a detailed discussion of the evidence against Trump in the Russia probe, and its credibility, DOJ told Jackson.

But on May 24, DOJ released redacted parts of the two-year-old memo. Barr had used the entire memo to “clear” Trump of obstruction. In early May, Jackson, who has read the entire memo in camera—behind closed doors of her chambers—issued a scathing critique of Barr’s decision two years before.

“Why did the Attorney General’s [Barr’s] advisors, at his request, create a memorandum that evaluated the prosecutive merit of the facts amassed by the Special Counsel?” the judge wrote.

“Lifting the curtain reveals the answer to that, too: Getting a jump on public relations” through “a pre-emptive strike” against Mueller’s report.

In his special report on the Russian pro-Trump interference in the 2016 election, Mueller cited ten instances where Trump ordered staffers—including legal counsel Don McGahn—to take various measures to obstruct justice by wrecking Mueller’s investigation. McGahn refused and later quit.

McGahn may do more whistle-blowing. Trump tried to invoke executive privilege to prevent him from testifying before the House Judiciary Committee during the first impeachment investigation, into the Russian election interference.

On May 12, the committee and McGahn’s reps agreed he’ll testify on the Russia mess, also behind closed doors, the first week of June. McGahn will cover public sections of Mueller’s report and specific instances involving his role as Trump’s counsel, said committee chair Rep. Gerald Nadler, D-N.Y.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

Comments

comments