Five independently chosen investigators have turned their attention to former President Donald Trump, a sign that his legal troubles are on the rise as he no longer enjoys the protections once granted him by the Oval Office.
Trump now faces investigations led by elected officials from Georgia to New York to Washington, and they should only answer to their constituents. Most are Democrats, but a Georgia Republican launched a key investigation that has faced strong criticism from Trump since the election.
And the former president’s actions upon leaving office, including his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results and incite his supporters with unsubstantiated claims of fraud until they stormed the United States Capitol on a heartbreaking January day, They have only added to your legal troubles.
“It has never happened in our history, but each and every one of these prosecutors has more than enough preaching to investigate what they are investigating,” said Daniel R. Alonso, who was a senior assistant to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, from 2010 to 2014.
There are signs that the investigations are progressing. In New York, investigators recently got their hands on Trump’s tax returns and have beefed up their team with a prosecutor who specializes in complex financial cases. In Georgia, another prosecutor plans to begin requesting subpoenas from a grand jury starting this week.
“The world has changed for Donald Trump, legally, now that he is no longer president,” said Elie Honig, a former federal and state attorney and CNN legal analyst. “Donald Trump tried to delay the civil suits against him, he tried to delay the subpoenas against him while he was president. All of that no longer exists, so now we are looking at various investigators, federal and state, probing and making a decision to look closely at Donald Trump. ”
All eyes on the Empire State
In Manhattan, all eyes are on Vance, who has been investigating Trump’s finances for two years and is not expected to run for re-election.
The Democrat has 10 months until the end of his term, setting the clock, some said, to conclude his investigation.
“The case, if charged, is likely to be charged before Vance leaves office,” said Anne Milgram, a former New Jersey attorney general and former federal prosecutor.
“That is because there are 10 months to go, which is a long time in a criminal investigation, and because the district attorney’s office had previously indicated that there were statutes of time limitations,” he said.
Prosecutors have already interviewed witnesses, subpoenaed documents from lenders, an insurance broker and others, and last month recruited a former federal prosecutor with experience in complex financial investigations to bolster their team.
Investigators also received a large number of records last week, including tax returns, financial statements and communications between the Trump Organization and Mazars, Trump’s longtime accountant, after the Supreme Court denied the latest offer from Trump to prevent Vance from accessing those records.
“I think the goal will be to act quickly and if they believe a crime has been committed, they will go on to present the case to the investigating jury in months, not years,” Milgram said.
Vance, the son of a former US Secretary of State and a Washington insider, spent most of his legal career as a white-collar criminal defense attorney. He ran for district attorney and took office in 2010 after more than 30 years of his predecessor, Robert Morgenthau, at the helm.
He has been groundbreaking in how he has handled some cases and in 2019, Vance’s office obtained the first conviction on state charges of domestic terrorism.
But some of his victories have been tainted with controversy.
When Vance brought criminal charges against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault following the rise of the #MeToo movement, Weinstein’s conviction was hailed as a “new era of justice” by Time’s Up, a women’s advocacy group.
But it came only after an earlier decision in 2015 to refuse to prosecute Weinstein after an Italian model accused him of groping her and recorded Weinstein on tape saying, “I won’t do it again.”
Vance was also criticized for failing to prosecute Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, who were investigated in 2012 for allegedly misleading potential buyers of units in Trump SoHo, a New York hotel property. In both cases, people’s attorneys had donated to Vance’s campaign.
Vance defended himself, telling reporters in 2017 that the donations had no impact on his decision. His office said the allegations against Weinstein were “horrible,” but there was insufficient evidence to charge him.
“At the end of the day, we operate in the courtroom of law, not the courtroom of public opinion,” Vance said.
Alonso, Vance’s former assistant, has previously said that sometimes a district attorney is successful in deciding not to press charges.
On the Trump investigation, he said, Vance will not be a politician.
“He knows the job is not to lick his finger and hold it up against the wind and decide which way the wind blows before making a decision,” Alonso said. “He will look at the evidence and decide who he thinks is guilty and if he can prove it.”
Another New York investigation
One of the biggest thorns in Trump’s side has been New York Attorney General Letitia James.
When James ran for office in 2018, he campaigned with a commitment to investigate everything from Trump’s policies to his finances.
“I am running for attorney general because I will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president when our fundamental rights are at stake,” James said at the time.
His track record since then has shown that he meant it: he challenged the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the U.S. census, lobbied for the New York legislature to pass a law to shut down a Presidential clemency loophole and concluded a lawsuit filed by his predecessor that led to the dissolution of the Trump Foundation.
Now his office is investigating Trump’s personal and business finances, exploring whether the assets were misvalued and whether banks or tax authorities were defrauded.
James won court victories with a judge forcing Eric Trump, who co-runs the Trump Organization’s day-to-day operations, to appear for a deposition and ordered Trump’s tax attorney to turn over stacks of documents.
James has pioneered, becoming the first black woman to hold citywide office when she was elected a New York City public defender in 2013 and then the first woman elected to serve as New York’s attorney general and the first black woman to hold a state office.
His political ambitions are not limited to the Attorney General’s Office. She has pondered running for mayor and some have speculated that she could run for governor if Andrew Cuomo does not run for office again.
Cuomo backed James in his bid for attorney general, but his ties have recently been put to the test. James issued a scathing report in January that found that the New York Department of Health underestimated COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents by about 50%, triggering a political crisis for Cuomo.
Over the weekend, she publicly rejected Cuomo’s plans to investigate allegations of sexual harassment brought against him. Cuomo initially said he would appoint a retired federal judge to investigate the claims of two women.
When that move was met with harsh criticism, he said he would ask James and the New York Chief Judge to appoint an independent investigator. In the end, he gave ground to James, who will be the only one to select an independent law firm to investigate the allegations against the governor.
Cuomo says he never touched or made proposals to anyone inappropriately, but he apologized to anyone who misinterpreted his comments in the workplace as unwanted flirting.
“She has been a strong, independent voice throughout her career,” said Robert Abrams, New York attorney general from 1978 to 1994 and a member of James’ transition team. “All this shows that he has shown courage and tenacity for what he believes to be correct, what is his duty and responsibility.”
Trump has built on James’ previous comments, saying his actions against him are politically motivated. In a court filing contesting Vance’s subpoena for his tax returns, Trump’s attorneys cited James nine times, including when she said, “I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of your real estate dealings.”
James said Trump is wrong about her.
I’m not biased. I represent the state, all individuals, all citizens of New York State, whether Republican or Democrat, ”James told Marie Claire in January. “That is my duty and that is the mission.”
Georgia Republican Investigator
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office is also investigating Trump for his attempts to overturn the state’s election results.
When Trump lost the presidential election, no state official was in his sights more than Raffensperger, a veteran Republican. Even when Trump’s tension and pressure were on public display, Georgia’s top election official said he had supported Trump and stated publicly several times that he wished Trump had won.
But although he said he was personally disappointed with the results as a conservative Republican, Raffensperger flatly refused to credit a litany of conspiracy theories reinforced by the then president that alleged election fraud in Georgia.
Since the riots in the United States Capitol on January 6, Raffensperger has offered a more critical view of Trump’s actions.
“Many of the actions he has taken since then are not what you would expect from a president,” Raffensperger told CNN in January. “I’ve said from day one that we have to be very attentive to our speech because we can’t make people nervous and get them into an emotional frenzy.”
Raffensperger’s is the rare Republican-led investigation, compounded by the fact that Raffensperger was a direct witness to Trump’s attempts to influence the outcome of the election.
A source familiar with the Georgia secretary of state’s investigation confirmed that officials are seeing two calls. One is the January phone call, of which CNN obtained the audio. In it, Trump pressured Raffensperger to “find” votes to overturn the election results after his loss to Biden.
The other involves a call Trump made Dec. 23 to a Georgia election investigator at the secretary of state’s office leading an investigation into allegations of voter fraud in Cobb County.
Trump is heard asking the chief investigator in Raffensperger’s office to “find the fraud,” saying the official would be a “national hero,” according to a source with knowledge of the call.
Trump’s senior adviser Jason Miller said in a statement last month that there was nothing “inappropriate or unpleasant” about the call between Trump and Raffensperger.
“And the only reason the call was made public was because Mr. Raffensperger leaked it in an attempt to score political points,” Miller’s statement said.
Raffensperger’s office declined to comment, saying they do not comment on active investigations.
Twenty investigators work in Raffensperger’s office statewide and the team has a lot on its plate. They are currently working on 252 2020 cases that are open or pending submission to the state board of elections, a source familiar with the Georgia secretary of state’s investigations confirmed to CNN.
The office investigates all complaints it receives and described the investigations as “administrative and fact-finding in nature,” according to a February 8 statement, the day it opened an investigation into the calls.
Once Raffensperger’s office completes its investigation, the findings will be reported to the state board of elections, which may decide that probable cause supports the existence of a violation, and that the case should be referred to the county district attorney for Fulton, Fani Willis, or, additionally, the Georgia attorney general for further investigation, according to two people familiar with the process.
Georgia deepens electoral meddling
In addition to the investigation by Raffensperger’s office, Willis is investigating Trump’s call to the Georgia secretary of state, seeking to sway Georgia’s election results in his favor.
When that call took place on January 2, Willis had only been in office for one day. In early February, his office began sending letters to Georgia officials asking them to keep documents related to attempts to influence the state’s elections while it investigates possible crimes, including solicitation of voter fraud, conspiracy and extortion.
According to the letters, none of the Georgia officials are the subject of the investigation.
The investigation instantly raised the national profile of the newly elected prosecutor. But it also upset some Georgia residents who believe the focus on Trump will divert attention and resources from local issues in Fulton County, which includes much of the city of Atlanta.
Those who know Willis, however, weren’t surprised to see her move on.
“There is some evidence that a law may have been violated. It may have been done in her jurisdiction, she’s going to look into it,” said Charlie Bailey, who previously worked closely with Willis at the district attorney’s office and is running for state attorney general in 2022.
“I know it’s different because is a former president. I realize that, and I know that she does too, but she takes it very seriously.”
Willis, a longtime Democrat and prosecutor, ousted her former chief to become the county’s first female district attorney in January.
She and her staff have been juggling a flood of interest in Trump’s investigation with a prosecution that was already collapsing under its burden of cases, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
One of his first steps was to ask the state attorney general to reassign two high-profile cases against Atlanta police officers for alleged use of excessive force, including in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks. His critics believe it is a sign that his priorities are elsewhere.
If the DA’s office has the time and the resources and all the time and the manpower to do that, to go after Trump on this election thing or whatever, just make sure that the cases of civil rights that are in your county are treated equally and have the same kind of priority, ”said Chris Stewart, attorney for the Brooks family.
“What do we do now?” Asked Stewart. “Families are caught in the middle.”
Meanwhile, Willis has said his investigation into Trump will extend beyond Trump’s call with Raffensperger to include any efforts to influence the election in Georgia.
She has said in interviews that she can begin requesting subpoenas from an investigative jury starting in March. And that investigative jury will be based on a group of voters in Fulton County who are unlikely to sympathize with Trump: President Joe Biden won the county with nearly 73% of the vote in November.
“I have no idea what I’m going to find,” Willis told CNN affiliate WSB last month. “A good law enforcement officer, a good prosecutor, comes in with an open mind.”
Willis is perhaps best known in Georgia for her role in the 2014 prosecution of a dozen educators accused of being involved in a cheating scandal. Eleven were convicted of organized crime offenses.
Her former colleagues said she is unlikely to be intimidated when confronting the former president. But it has acknowledged having doubled down on its security amid threats.
“Interestingly, the comments are always racist. And it’s really just a waste of time and silly, ”Willis told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last month. “It won’t stop me from doing my job, and I don’t think it’s an insult to remind me that I’m a black woman.”
Another blow for Trump in Washington
For Karl Racine, there may be little downside to pursuing another case against Trump.
Racine, who became Washington’s first elected attorney general when he took office in 2015, serves an electorate that overwhelmingly favors Democrats. In 2020, 92% of Washington voted for Biden.
Racine previously faced Trump in a lawsuit alleging conflicts between the then-president’s business interests and his oath of office. The lawsuit became moot when Trump left office.
Racine’s latest prosecution appears to be a waiting game as prosecutors investigate whether the former president’s alleged role in the insurrection violated the city’s incitement to violence law and determine whether to better partner with the attorney general.
“They don’t want to press charges without the cooperation of the federal government,” said former Washington attorney general Bob Spagnoletti. They are not going to risk here.
Racine’s office only enforces local city codes, while the prosecution of felony and federal crimes is the province of the Justice Department.
Racine has said he is targeting the incitement to violence charge available to him under Washington code, but the charge only carries a maximum of six months in prison, and legal experts note that Racine would not have the authority to compel Trump to return to Washington to appear in court.
Spagnoletti points out that it would be highly advantageous for Racine to work in relation to the attorney general in Washington, especially since only that office has the power to convene an investigative jury.
“Because Karl Racine doesn’t have one, he needs to be able to work with the federal prosecutor to gather evidence quickly and not stop it, which is what will happen without a coordinated strategy,” Spagnoletti said.
Acting Attorney General Michael Sherwin has said his office will weigh indictment of all actors involved in the insurrection, but has declined to elaborate on whether that also includes Trump. It is unclear if Sherwin will remain in office if Merrick Garland is confirmed as attorney general.
Racine revealed in January that his office was “collaborating at a high level with federal prosecutors.”
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