New York Is Investigating Trump and His Company Over Bank Fraud, Filing Suggests
04 Aug 2020

The Manhattan district attorney’s office suggested on Monday that it had been investigating President Trump and his company for possible bank and insurance fraud, a significantly broader inquiry than the prosecutors have acknowledged in the past.

The suggestion by the office of the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., came in a new federal court filing arguing that Mr. Trump’s accountants should have to comply with a grand jury subpoena seeking eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns. Mr. Trump has asked a judge to declare the subpoena invalid.

Until now, the district attorney’s inquiry had appeared largely focused on hush-money payments made in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump.

In the new filing, the prosecutors did not explicitly identify the matters under scrutiny in the grand jury inquiry, which by law is conducted in secret. But they said that “undisputed” assertions in earlier court papers and several news reports about Mr. Trump’s business practices showed that the office had a wide legal basis for the subpoena.

“In light of these public reports of possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization,” there was nothing improper or even unusual about the subpoena, the filing said.

The prosecutors cited newspaper reports, including one that concluded the president may have illegally inflated his net worth and the value of his properties to lenders and insurers. They also included an article on the congressional testimony of his former lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, who told lawmakers last year that the president had committed insurance fraud. Lawyers for the president have denied wrongdoing.

The suggestion that the investigation, which has gone on for nearly two years, was broader than Mr. Vance’s office had previously acknowledged could raise the stakes for Mr. Trump, his company and its executives, if the inquiry were ever to lead to charges of bank or insurance fraud, which are felonies.

The inquiry into the hush-money payments seemed to center on a less serious crime, the filing of false business records.

A spokesman for Mr. Vance’s office declined to comment. Lawyers for Mr. Trump did not reply to requests for comment.

Asked about the investigation at a White House briefing, Mr. Trump called it a “continuation of the worst witch hunt in American history.”

“It’s a terrible thing that they do,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Democrats. “It’s really a terrible thing.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Vance have been locked in battle over the subpoena for almost a year in a case that already has gone to the Supreme Court. The district attorney’s office has said that fight has slowed the investigation, and it remains unclear how much work prosecutors have been able to do in the interim or whether charges are likely to result.

It is also unknown whether prosecutors are investigating other possible crimes that were not suggested in the new filing.

Rebecca Roiphe, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan who now teaches at New York Law School, said Mr. Vance’s decision to cite public accusations of wrongdoing allowed his office to defend its subpoena without revealing the actual focus of its investigation.

“They could be going on a totally different tangent,” Professor Roiphe said. “The prosecutor is just doing what he has to do in order to suggest this is a broad white-collar investigation, which generally justifies fairly broad subpoenas to financial institutions.”

Mr. Vance, a Democrat, subpoenaed Mr. Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, in August 2019 for the tax returns and other financial records dating to 2011. Mr. Trump tried to block the subpoena almost immediately, initially arguing that as a sitting president, he was immune from state criminal investigation.

By William K. Rashbaum and Benjamin Weiser, The New York Times, 3 August 2020

Read more at The New York Times

Photo: Alex Proimos [CC BY-NC 2.0] via Flickr

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