Prosecutors' Trump probe is 'well-developed' — there's just one 'final piece' missing: report

Prosecutors' Trump probe is 'well-developed' — there's just one 'final piece' missing: report
President Donald J. Trump speaks with military service personnel on duty around the world Friday, Dec. 25, 2020, during a Christmas Day video teleconference call at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

A new report from the Washington Post on Tuesday offered a fresh glimpse into the Manhattan district attorney's investigation of President Donald Trump and the Trump organization.

Though the headline of the story focused on the finding that the probe is escalating and that D.A. Cy Vance has hired "forensic account experts," another claim in the report was perhaps more revealing and significant. Reporters Shayna Jacobs and Jonathan O'Connell explained:

Vance is engaged in a long-running legal battle to obtain eight years of Trump's tax records and other financial information from the president's accounting firm, Mazars USA. Those records are considered the final piece of what is already a well-developed investigation, according to the person.

While it's long been public knowledge that Vance, like the Democrats in the House of Representatives, are pursuing Trump's taxes., it's been unclear how far along the investigation of Trump and his businesses actually is. The president and his defenders have accused Vance, a Democrat, of essentially conducting a politically motivated fishing expedition to undercut the president. If this were true, Vance may be seeking the tax records without knowing much about what he would find there.

But the Post's report points to another possibility: Vance has the bulk of the case wrapped up, and he wants the tax records as the last piece of evidence. Trump failed to make the case to the Supreme Court that he had immunity from the New York investigation as president to block Vance from getting his tax returns. But he has returned to the Supreme Court once again to argue that the subpoena for his records is unjust, an appeal most experts believe will fail. If it does fail, Vance will receive the returns.

It should be said, though, that's it's not clear how reliable the Post's source is about the state of the investigation. And even if the source is presenting the information correctly as the D.A. sees it, Vance could be overconfident in the strength of his case. He has been repeatedly slapped down in his effort to bring charges against Trump ally Paul Manfort, as courts rejected his case on the predictable grounds of double jeopardy.

Vance reportedly began the probe to look into allegations surrounding the criminal hush money payments former attorney Michael Cohen made on Trump's behalf during the 2016 campaign, but the scope of the investigation has since "expanded," according to the Post.

The Post also notes an intriguing possibility that Trump may escape charges, even if his business does not:

It is possible Vance could find evidence that the Trump Organization as a business entity has broken the law, without attaching personal liability to Trump or other individuals at his company. To bring criminal charges, the district attorney must be able to prove there was an intent to break the law — which probably would require the testimony of an insider witness, experts have said.
It's unclear whether Vance has secured such testimony, though in recent weeks his team has spoken with employees at Deutsche Bank, a major lender for the Trump Organization, and the insurance brokerage Aon. Those discussion were first reported by the New York Times. Prosecutors have issued new subpoenas and met with witnesses at a steady pace, people familiar with the process have said.

In addition to the Vance case, New York Attorney General Letitia James is known to be working on a civil investigation into the Trump Organization. It may overlap substantially with Vance's investigation.

Separately, the federal government has likewise reviewed Trump's conduct. While he has been protected from federal prosecution as long as he remained president, that protection disappears on Jan. 20, 2021. President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he would prefer not to focus on investigations of Trump in his administration, but he said he will permit his attorney general to exercise their independent judgment on these matters.

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