NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s attorney general says a three-year investigation into former President Donald Trump uncovered potential crimes in the way he ran his real estate empire, including allegations of bank and insurance fraud.
So why isn’t Trump being prosecuted?
Attorney General Letitia James did not try to handcuff the Republicans this week, as some of her critics expected. Instead, he announced a civil suit seeking $250 million and his permanent deportation from doing business in the state.
The law and, like many things involving Trump, where James, a Democrat, opted for trial rather than prosecution, are complicated.
For one, even if she wanted to prosecute Trump, she has rights under state law to bring a criminal case against her or any of the other defendants at trial, including the Trump Organization and her three eldest children, Donald Jr. area is not. Ivanka and Eric Trump.
In New York, the state attorney general’s office is only allowed to prosecute crimes of a limited scope on its own, such as bid rigging and payroll violations.
Otherwise, the office must partner with the county district attorney on prosecution — as James’ office did with the Manhattan district attorney’s office in a case against Trump’s longtime finance chief — or with the governor or state agency. Known as criminal referral. which has jurisdiction over the alleged wrongdoing.
Still, filing a criminal fraud case is far more challenging than a civil trial.
In a criminal case, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump intended to commit the crime. At trial – if it goes to trial – the jurors will only need to be persuaded, it is more likely that wrongdoing didn’t happen.
Legal experts said filing a civil suit while allowing other people to settle potential criminal breaches is a good strategy, allowing James to seek remedies other than jail time.
It allows the attorney general to avoid the kind of internal debate about criminal charges that scuttled the Manhattan district attorney’s parallel investigation earlier this year.
No former US president has ever been charged with a crime.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said the prospect of 76-year-old Trump behind bars as a result of criminal prosecution could put the jury on hold, make judges more wary and make victory more difficult.
“Even for Trump people don’t like him, but do they want to take him away?” Tobias said. “What would it take? What kind of punishment would be appropriate? So it’s more difficult all around.”
A civil case, said Tobias, given its lower burden of proof standard, “is much easier to collect … and probably to win”.
Trump, a Republican who is laying the groundwork for another presidency in 2024, has ridiculed James as “a fraud who has campaigned on a ‘get Trump’ platform”.
In an interview Wednesday night with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, Trump suggested that his company protected itself from potential fraud allegations by warning banks and potential business partners not to trust information in their financial disclosures. .
“We have a disclaimer on the straight front,” Trump said. “‘You are at your own risk.’ … ‘Be careful as it may not be accurate. It may be too far.’ … ‘Get your people. Use your own appraisers. Use your own lawyers. Don’t trust us.'”
James said in a news conference Wednesday that his office was referring his findings to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan and the Internal Revenue Service, and evidence of potential state law violations with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office when requested. will share.
The US Attorney’s office in Manhattan said it was aware of James’ reference to potential criminal violations, but declined comment otherwise. The Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Department said it “does not confirm the existence of the investigation until court documents are publicly available.”
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said his investigation of Trump was “active and ongoing.”
Mark Pomerantz, the former prosecutor who was leading the Bragg investigation, resigned in February because he felt the office should move more quickly to bring criminal charges against Trump.
In a resignation letter, Pomerantz wrote that he believes the former president is “guilty of multiple felonies.”
He said he had told Bragg that there was “enough evidence to establish Mr. Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” that now appears in James’ trial – in which Trump has tried to secure loans and burnish his image. misrepresented financial statements. a wealthy merchant.
If no settlement is reached, James’ trial against Trump could take years to run and may not be resolved before the 2024 presidential election.
A fraud lawsuit filed against the National Rifle Association as James recently entered his third year has been slowed by legal wrangling and efforts by the powerful gun advocacy group to take the case out. No trial date has been set.
Ending legal proceedings could hurt Trump’s business by making creditors and potential partners reluctant to cut deals. But, if history is any guide, it is unlikely to be a crushing blow. Against the odds, and despite no shortage of legal battles in recent years, the company has been able to obtain fresh loans and raise funds.
In February, the Trump Organization received $100 million from a California Bank to refinance commercial and retail space at its Trump Tower headquarters. The deal came just three days after Trump’s longtime accountant, Mazurs, helped prepare a decade of financial statements – a serious blow to his business reputation.
This big debt also came after the Trump Organization had already been indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office on fraud charges for allegedly helping officials evade taxes. The matter is to be heard next month.
Another recent victory for Trump in the form of his legal troubles: selling his Washington DC hotel for $375 million, far more than expected.
Several lending experts said the new loan shows why much of Trump’s business has been untouched by his political and legal storms: What matters most in real estate is the cash thrown in from rents and the collateral of buildings — the owner’s. not reputation.
Associated Press journalists Larry Neumeister, Bobby Cana Calvan and Jill Colvin in New York and Fatima Hussein in Washington contributed to this report.