All eyes are on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the final report he is expected to issue in the coming weeks. But President Trump may be more nervous about federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
The special counsel’s office is limited in the scope of its investigation to the allegations of the Trump campaign and the question of collusion with Russia and Russian intelligence officials. However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), which is in Manhattan, has jurisdiction over all other Trump-related investigations. And according to a recent Politico report, prosecutors may indict Trump despite Department of Justice guidance that sitting presidents can’t be indicted.
SDNY has sweeping jurisdiction over Trump’s business empire, as the Trump Organization is headquartered in Manhattan. This means that there’s a strong possibility that the ongoing investigation into the Trump Organization could result in criminal indictments for Trump himself, his family members — who currently run the business — and potentially others. Even though it got scant coverage in the media, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg’s immunity deal with SDNY has major implications for Trump, as Weisselberg would have direct knowledge of any financial crimes that happened under Trump’s watch.
Additionally, SDNY is handling the investigation into former Trump lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, who has already pleaded guilty to multiple felonies. Traditionally, prosecutors don’t offer a plea deal unless it’s in exchange for something investigators want, like a higher-profile target. Cohen’s cooperation with SDNY could signal that Trump himself may be subject to indictment over the hush-money payments to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) and model Karen McDougal, who were both poised to come out with the news of Trump of having affairs with them in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
And, as Politico reported, SDNY recently requested financial documents from President Trump’s inaugural committee, asking how he raised a record-breaking $107 million for his inauguration. President Obama, for example, raised just half that amount for his 2009 inauguration, which was the most well-attended presidential inauguration ceremony in history. If any of that $107 million came from foreign donors or entities, Trump could very well be found in violation of federal campaign finance laws.
The biggest difference between the Mueller probe and the probes by investigators in Manhattan is that while President Trump may try to pardon himself or his associates for federal crimes, any joint investigations between SDNY and New York law enforcement officials would be for a state-level crime, which would be out of reach for any potential pardon. One example is the New York Attorney General’s office, which is investigating the alleged mishandling of funds for the Trump Foundation. Cohen’s attorney says his client plans to fully cooperate with state investigators in that case as well.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.