Legal expert says Trump and Ivanka could face prison time for tax crimes: 'No question'

Legal expert says Trump and Ivanka could face prison time for tax crimes: 'No question'
(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Michael Heup of Bitty & Beau's Coffee of Annapolis, Md., addresses his remarks to President Donald J. Trump and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump at an event supporting our nation's small businesses through the pay check protection program Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in the East Room of the White House.

Both President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka are liable to face jail time due to tax fraud should the president lose his reelection bid in November, a former Watergate prosecutor told CNN on Tuesday.

Nick Akerman, who investigated former President Richard Nixon's tax activities as part of the Watergate investigation, told anchor Erin Burnett that Nixon was a "rookie amateur" compared to Trump's maneuvers which allowed him to pay no federal income taxes for at least 11 years and just $750 in 2016 and 2017.

While the New York Times gave its bombshell story about Trump's tax records from the past two decades a headline referring to his "tax avoidance," Akerman said the article actually describes several instances of tax fraud that both the president and his eldest daughter participated in.

"Tax avoidance is simply taking the tax code and getting the most deductions you can get under the code that is perfectly legal," Akerman told Burnett. "Tax fraud, however, is lying about what your income was, lying about what your deductions are, and there's a couple of items that just stand out in that report from the New York Times that really appear to go beyond tax avoidance."

Akerman pointed to a particular revelation about consulting fees that the Trump Organization paid to an outside consultant for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver, British Columbia, totaling $747,622. Ivanka Trump, who at the time was an executive at the Trump Organization, reported that she received that exact amount in 2017 through a consulting firm she co-owned.

"There is no legitimate reason for her to get those consulting fees since she was being paid already as a Trump employee," Akerman said. "The only possible reason for doing this was to somehow move money around so that it wouldn't be taxed to Donald Trump but would in effect go on Ivanka Trump's tax return, who probably had certain losses that she could take against it. So in the end, the government gets zero dollars."

According to the law, there is "no question" the president and Ivanka Trump could face at least five years in prison for tax evasion, Akerman said.

"It is a pretty serious crime and the more money that is stolen the longer you go to jail for," he said, adding, "The only thing saving him at this point is the Department of Justice's guideline that says you can't indict a sitting president."

The DOJ is currently guided by a 2000 Office of Legal Counsel memo stating that a sitting president cannot be indicted—guidance that is "far from being definitive" and could be reconsidered by the department, according to Lawfare.

As it stands, should Trump lose the general election in November, "any decent prosecutor looking at this evidence would be able to put together a pretty viable tax case," Akerman said, adding that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. is currently probing Trump's financial records.

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