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Brief # 20 – Elections and Politics

Criminal Charges Levied Against the Former President

Zack Huffman

 

May 31, 2021

Policy Summary:

For four years, President Donald Trump was able to use his position as Commander in Chief to shield himself from legal action for alleged crimes committed both during and before his time in office. Four months out from President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Trump is starting to feel the burn of no longer having the presidential shield to protect him. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on May 18, that her office was now pursuing a criminal investigation into the Trump Organization. Previously, James’ office had been pursuing a civil investigation into allegations that the Trump Organization, which owns Donald Trump’s many real estate properties, had either inflated or deflated the value of its properties in order to obtain loans or avoid taxes, respectively. 

While it is significant that a state attorney general is now criminally investigating the former president, James is not the only prosecutor seeking criminal charges against him. 

Policy Analysis:

Criminal charges require a higher burden of proof in court, but they also carry more severe penalties, such as a prison time. Expanding the investigation to include possible criminal charges indicates that James’ office believes it may have enough evidence, or may be able to obtain enough evidence to meet the stricter criminal standard. 

The New York AG had already been conducting a civil investigation into the former president’s company, based on suspicion that the company inflated the value of its assets in order to obtain large loans against them, while at the same time undervaluing the same property and claiming income losses to avoid having to pay a fair share of taxes. 

James’ move indicates that she may be working with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who has been investigating criminal charges into the Trump Organization for two years now, allegations that the Trump Organization paid hush money to women with whom Trump slept, including adult film star Stormy Daniels. 

Vance’s investigation has expanded to the Trump Organization’s alleged tax shenanigans as well as fraud related to the actual value of assets used as collateral for bank loans. Earlier this year, Vance’s office finally obtained years of Trump’s tax records, after a lengthy legal fight that went as far as the Supreme Court of the United States before Trump ultimately lost. 

Vance recently announced, on May 25, that his office had convened a grand jury, which indicates that Vance believes his office has enough evidence to make formal criminal charges. 

Both James and Vance are also investigating former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg for tax fraud both personally and in his role as Trump’s CFO. There is a possibility that if either prosecutor comes down hard enough on Weisselberg, they might be able to flip him and turn witness against Trump, similar to what happened in 2018 with Trump’s former lawyer-turned-convict, Michael Cohen. 

Fulton County’s District Attorney Fani Willis, who represents most of Atlanta, Georgia, announced on March 15 that she was opening a criminal investigation of Trump, himself, over his allegedly attempting to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find more votes” to overturn his electoral loss in the Peach State. 

Unlike the investigations in New York, the Georgia case focuses on actions that took place during Trump’s presidency rather than before he took office. 

Trump dismissed the shift to a criminal investigation in New York as a partisan attack against him in a rant on the blog he introduced following his permanent ban from Twitter. 

“This is purely political, and an affront to the almost 75 million voters who supported me in the Presidential Election, and it’s being driven by highly partisan Democrat prosecutors,” he wrote. 

The last four years should have taught us  that Trump, the country’s only twice-impeached president, has a bad habit for surviving when it appears that the legal walls are closing in. That said, on paper, there is good reason for Trump to not be too optimistic. 

Engagement Resources:

CNN: New York attorney general adds ‘criminal capacity’ to probe of Trump Organization. https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/18/politics/new-york-attorney-general-trump-organization-criminal-probe/index.html

Associated Press: Trump’s taxes in hand, Manhattan DA’s probe heats up. https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-taxes-new-york-prosecutors-investigation-218987d4dbac510158c35d5850f5e492

Slate: How N.Y. Prosecutors Might Get a Key Witness to Flip on Trump. Jennifer Rodgers, Martin Sheil. 5/26/21. accessed on 5/26/21. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/05/vance-grand-jury-weisselberg-trump-flip.html

Mother Jones: Emails Tie Top Trump Exec Allen Weisselberg to Yet Another Trump Financial Scandal

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Fulton DA’s investigation into Trump heads to grand jury. https://www.ajc.com/news/crime/fulton-das-investigation-into-trump-heads-to-grand-jury/GI6UQWVVLJGCPMCCBKDES5FJ4Y/

From the Desk of Donald J. Trump. https://www.donaldjtrump.com/desk

 

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