Conservative law professor explains why Trump’s 'criminal liability' just escalated

Conservative law professor explains why Trump’s 'criminal liability' just escalated

This week, New York State Attorney General Letitia James made a major announcement: her investigation of the Trump Organization is now a criminal investigation rather than a civil investigation. Kimberly Wehle, a Never Trump conservative and former assistant U.S. attorney who teaches law at the University of Baltimore, analyzes this development in an article published by The Atlantic on May 19. And she explains why James' announcement is historic.

James, a Democrat, announced, "We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity." And the New York Times has reported that two prosecutors from her office will be working with the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

Wehle, also known for her articles for the conservative website The Bulwark, explains, "With this news, Donald Trump, those around him, and the country as a whole inch closer to the prospect that a former president could face criminal charges, and possibly even prison time. The country has not been through anything like this before."

The law professor describes this investigation of former President Donald Trump's company, the Trump Organization, as "sweeping."

According to Wehle, "James began it as a civil investigation following the 2019 congressional testimony of Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, that the Trump Organization had lied about the value of its assets in order to secure loans and insurance and to reduce its tax liability. Her focus includes the Trump Organization's valuation of Seven Springs, a 213-acre estate in Westchester County, which it used to claim a $21.1 million tax deduction for a conservation easement on the property in 2015."

Wehle goes on to note that "Vance's municipal-level, criminal grand-jury investigation adds other areas of possible criminality to the scope of James' state-level inquiry, including possible bank and tax fraud." She points out, however, that it remains to be seen whether or not the "joint efforts of the Manhattan DA and the New York State AG will lead to any actual charges." That, according to Wehle, is "unknowable at this point."

Wehle explains, "Corporations can't go to jail. Nonetheless, individual corporate officers can be charged along with a corporation. This is where Trump, his top affiliates, and his family are all in potential trouble. Trump's tax counsel in 2016 described him as the sole or principal owner in approximately 500 separate entities (that) do business as The Trump Organization.' It's hard to imagine a scenario in which none of this comes back to Trump himself."

Because the U.S. Department of Justice has long had a policy against indicting a sitting president, criminal charges against Trump were never a possibly when he was in the White House. But Trump hasn't been president since January 20, when Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States.

"As president, Donald Trump dodged conviction despite two impeachment trials on three counts of constitutional wrongdoing," Wehle observes. "Now, his own criminal and civil liability, as well as that of his businesses, his staff, and his children, are squarely within the sights of the rule of law."

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