NEW YORK –
New York’s attorney general says her three-year investigation into former President Donald Trump uncovered potential wrongdoing in the way he ran his real estate empire, including allegations of bank and insurance fraud.
So why is Trump not being impeached?
Attorney General Letitia James did not seek to handcuff the Republican this week, as some of her critics expected. Instead, she announced a $250 million civil suit and her permanent ban from doing business in the state.
Like many things related to the law and Trump, the reasons why James, a Democrat, opted for a lawsuit over a prosecution are complicated.
For one thing, even if he wanted to prosecute Trump, he has no jurisdiction under state law to bring a criminal case against him or any of the other defendants in the lawsuit, including the Trump Organization and his three eldest sons, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump.
In New York, the state attorney general’s office can only prosecute a limited range of crimes on its own, such as bid rigging and payroll violations.
Otherwise, the office must partner with a county district attorney in a prosecution, as James’ office did with the Manhattan district attorney’s office in a case against Trump’s longtime finance chief, or obtain what is known as a criminal referral from the governor or a state agency. which has jurisdiction over the alleged irregularity.
Even then, mounting a criminal fraud case is much more challenging than a civil lawsuit.
In a criminal case, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump intended to commit a crime. In the lawsuit, if he goes to trial, jurors would only have to be persuaded that wrongdoing was more likely.
Filing a civil suit and letting others resolve potential criminal infractions is a good strategy, legal experts said, allowing James to pursue remedies other than prison.
It allows the attorney general to avoid the kind of internal debate over criminal charges that fractured the Manhattan district attorney’s parallel investigation of Trump earlier this year.
No former president of the United States has ever been charged with a crime.
The prospect of Trump, 76, being behind bars as a result of a criminal trial could cause juries to pause, judges to be more careful and to win more difficult, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.
“Even for Trump, people don’t like him, but do they want to lock him up?” Tobias said. “What would it take? What kind of punishment would be appropriate? So everything is more difficult.”
A civil case, given its lower burden of proof standard, is “much easier to put together … and probably win,” Tobias said.
Trump, a Republican who is laying the groundwork for another presidential bid in 2024, has derided James as “a fraud who campaigned on a ‘get Trump’ platform.”
In an interview Wednesday night with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, Trump suggested his company had protected itself against potential fraud allegations by warning banks and potential business partners not to rely on information in its financial disclosures.
“We have a disclaimer right up front,” Trump said. “’You are at your own risk.’ … “Be careful because it may not be exact. It may be very far away.” … ‘Get your own people. Use your own appraisers. Use your own attorneys. Don’t trust us.’”
James said at a news conference Wednesday that his office was forwarding its findings to the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and the Internal Revenue Service, and would share evidence of possible violations of state law with the Manhattan district attorney’s office. , if requested.
The US attorney’s office in Manhattan said it was aware of James’ reference to possible criminal violations but otherwise declined to comment. The Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation division said it “does not confirm the existence of investigations until court documents are publicly available.”
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said his investigation into Trump was “active and ongoing.”
The former prosecutor who had led the Bragg investigation, Mark Pomerantz, resigned in February because he felt the office should move faster to bring criminal charges against Trump.
In a resignation letter, Pomerantz wrote that he believes the former president is “guilty of numerous serious crimes.”
He said he had told Bragg there was “sufficient evidence to establish Mr. Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” on many of the same allegations now appearing in James’ lawsuit, including that Trump falsified financial statements to secure loans. and polish your image as a wealthy businessman.
If there is no settlement agreement, James’ lawsuit against Trump could take years to develop and may not be resolved before the 2024 presidential election.
A fraud lawsuit James filed against the National Rifle Association recently entered its third year, delayed by legal wrangling and attempts by the powerful gun advocacy group to have the case dismissed. No date has been set for the trial.
Lengthy legal proceedings could hurt Trump’s business by making potential lenders and partners reluctant to close deals. But, if history is any guide, it’s not likely to be a crushing blow. Against all odds, and despite numerous legal battles in recent years, the company has been able to obtain new loans and raise money.
In February, the Trump Organization secured $100 million from a California bank to refinance commercial and retail space at its Trump Tower headquarters. That deal closed just three days after Mazurs, Trump’s longtime accountants, rejected a decade’s worth of financial statements he had helped prepare, a blow to his business reputation.
That big loan also came after the Manhattan district attorney’s office had already indicted the Trump Organization on fraud charges for allegedly helping executives evade taxes. That case is scheduled to go to trial next month.
Another recent victory for Trump as his legal troubles mount: selling his Washington DC hotel for $375 million, much more than expected.
Several lending experts said the new loan shows why much of Trump’s business is insulated from his political and legal storms: What matters most in real estate is money wasted renting and collateralizing buildings. , not the owner’s reputation.
Associated Press reporters Larry Neumeister, Bobby Caina Calvan and Jill Colvin in New York, and Fatima Hussein in Washington contributed to this report.