Criminal probe into Trump’s business dealings could overshadow any ‘Mueller report’


For months now, there has been much hesitation over questions such as: When will the so-called Mueller Report drop? What will he say? Will the Department of Justice (DOJ) release it to Congress and the public? And, ultimately, will the report spark impeachment or enough public outrage to bring down the Trump presidency?

The short answer to the conundrum of the Mueller report is that the current law does not provide for any public report along the lines of what Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr gave Congress after a four-year investigation of President Clinton.

{mosads}But the Trump investigation is different from Clinton’s in one important respect: Clinton didn’t have Southern District of New York (SDNY) Department of Justice prosecutors simultaneously investigating his business ventures — and doing so. without the “politically charged witch”. chase” that hovers over Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The SDNY is a formidable force in the Trump world for a host of reasons. Let’s count the paths:

  • The SDNY recently subpoenaed President Trump’s inaugural committee seeking information regarding potential “mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and illegal foreign contributions”.
  • He assured a to plead guilty by former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen on eight counts of criminal activity. The charges included criminal tax evasion and campaign finance violations involving $280,000 in payments made to prevent the women from publicly disclosing their alleged affairs with then-candidate Trump. Cohen has since cooperated with authorities over what he knows.
  • In one memorandum filed as part of Cohen’s sentencing, SDNY prosecutors have singled out Trump – identified as “Individual-1” – as having participated in Cohen’s campaign finance crimes involving silent money. It states, “Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more campaign members, including through meetings and phone calls, on the fact, nature and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to the two payments, he acted in coordination with and under the direction of Individual-1. »
  • The SDNY got a non-prosecution agreement with American Media, Inc. (AMI), owner of the National Enquirer. AMI has accepted responsibility for a “role in the making [a] Payment of $150,000“to former Playboy model Karen McDougal “in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and to ensure that the woman does not publish harmful allegations about the candidate prior to the 2016 election.” candidate, of course, was Donald J. Trump.”AMI further admitted that its main purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story in order to prevent her from influencing the election.”
  • The SDNY has reached a immunity agreement with AMI President David Pecker, who is a longtime friend of Trump. Pecker speaks to prosecutors in exchange for the government’s agreement not to use what he says against him to any extent.
  • The SDNY also has a immunity agreement with Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg started with the Trump family as an accountant for Trump’s father, Fred Trump, in the 1970s. He was therefore deeply involved in Trump’s business and personal finances, including his tax returns, for decades. decades. A treasure trove of information on how money came in and out of the Trump Organization, Weisselberg is also likely aware of all of the Trump Organization’s financial dealings involving Trump’s two eldest sons.

All told, there are a number of reasons why the full SDNY base is legally and practically significant to the Trump team:

1. If information provided by Weisselberg, Pecker, Cohen, or anyone else reveals wrongdoing on the part of the Trump Organization, it could squeeze the president in ways that his constitutional claim for immunity from prosecution would not cover. not. Corporations can be accused of crimes, and a dismantling of the Trump empire – perhaps with his children – is something even the most cynical cannot ignore.

In addition, “follow the money” crimes such as bank fraud, electronic fraud and money laundering are easier to prove than “intent” crimes like obstruction of justice – a topic that is central to the Mueller investigation. To prove financial crimes, prosecutors need documents or electronic data showing that certain illegal transactions were made knowingly. The government doesn’t need to prove that the president, for example, fired former FBI director James Comey for the specific purpose of interfering with the Russia investigation and not for any other reason. This is a more difficult proof.

2. The full list of SDNY prosecutors cannot reasonably be “fired” by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker or his successor if the Chief Executive (i.e. Trump ) wants to end all Trumpesque criminal investigations. Nor is their tenure tied to the terms or continued existence of a ordered removal — unlike Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s controversial transfer of Russia-related matters to Mueller.

3. Since career prosecutors are less politicized than a special advocate, their work may well continue during the next presidential term. If that person is someone other than Trump, the five-year statute of limitations for federal crimes could leave Trump facing indictment and even jail time if charged as a private citizen later. having left office. In other words, if Trump committed a criminal offense in the five years prior to the day he left office, federal criminal charges would be on the table at the end of a presidential term. This assumes, of course, that there is supporting evidence.

For now, the public can only speculate, and it’s never a wise thing to do when it comes to matters of extraordinary gravity – as if the most powerful person in the world is, in fact, a criminal.

Kim Wehle is a professor at the University of Baltimore Law School and a former Associate United States Attorney and Associate Independent Counsel in the Whitewater Inquiry. Her next book, “How to Read the Constitution and Why,” will be published by HarperCollins in June 2019. Follow her on Twitter @kim_wehle.

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