The Memo: Trump faces deepening legal troubles
Former President Trump’s legal problems deepened significantly Monday — and the trouble threatens to damage any future political ambitions he may harbor.
On Monday morning, the Supreme Court extinguished Trump’s last legal hope of keeping prosecutors in New York from gaining access to his tax returns.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance (D) is investigating Trump’s business affairs, apparently to see whether fraud has been committed.
The former president, banned from Twitter, issued a counter-blast in a Monday afternoon statement in which he complained that the investigation was part of a “witch hunt.” He also insisted that “these are attacks by Democrats” and that he was the victim of “headhunting prosecutors,” whose approach he equated with “fascism.”
Trump’s hyperbole will find the usual positive reception among his hardcore supporters, but it is tough to see how it will win over many other people, even moderate Republicans.
The former president has never revealed his tax returns, despite this being the norm for presidents and presidential candidates since at least the 1970s. Trump had repeatedly suggested he would do so, but has never made good on that promise.
Vance’s office sought the records from Trump’s longtime accountants, Mazars, who had indicated they were basically neutral, and simply waiting for the court process to play out. They are now expected to supply the records promptly, covering Trump’s tax returns from 2011 to 2018.
The investigation by Vance has its genesis in the apparent “hush-money” payments to two women, adult-film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom say they had sexual encounters with Trump years ago before he became president.
But the New York probe has expanded into other areas, which are believed to include whether Trump inflated the value of his assets in order to secure loans from financial institutions.
Deepening the perils for Trump even further, his former attorney Michael Cohen — a central player in the Daniels and McDougal matter — has been cooperating with prosecutors for well over a year.
In a statement to The Hill on Monday, Cohen said: “The Supreme Court has now proclaimed that no one is above the law. Trump will, for the first time, have to take responsibility for his own dirty deeds.”
In a separate interview with SiriusXM’s “The Dan Abrams Show,” Cohen said “it appears to me to be certain” that Trump will get charged with a crime.
Calculating the likely fallout is complicated because so much remains shrouded in mystery.
Trump’s tax returns do not even become public as a result of Monday’s Supreme Court ruling. The ruling simply allows them to be used in grand jury proceedings, which are supposed to be kept confidential.
Previous reporting from The New York Times has revealed a considerable amount about Trump’s financial affairs, including extraordinarily low federal income tax payments and hundreds of millions of dollars in loans that are coming due for repayment.
Still, Monday’s ruling was a win for Vance’s team.
“It is definitely the end of the road,” for Trump’s legal challenges, said Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney.
Litman said that, although grand jury proceedings are supposed to remain private, “one just suspects the possibility that they will stay secret from the public forever is just not feasible.”
He added: “It seems to me that any case against Trump will involve his tax records, so the question is, will Vance charge him? If he does, it’s 98 percent sure [the tax information] will become public knowledge.”
The likely impact of all of this on Trump’s political standing is even harder to gauge.
His refusal to release his tax returns, a checkered business history and a lack of clarity about his actual net worth were all among the things that had no negative effect at all on Trump when he first ran for office.
Whether an actual criminal prosecution — if one were undertaken — would change that for his Make America Great Again base is doubtful.
Even Trump’s political foes say the danger is likely to be felt among broader constituencies — such as moderate Republicans — rather than with Trump loyalists.
Asked whether Trump was in trouble, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons replied, “It seems like Donald Trump has been in a lot of trouble for years. He is very adept of staying one step ahead.”
Simmons also said Trump’s supporters “won’t care.” But, he added, “for everyone else — for that khakis-and-blue-shirt-wearing office worker in the middle of Ohio who is just trying to keep his taxes low, for that average Republican voter out there — I can’t imagine, given other alternatives, they would choose Donald Trump again if he was facing legal jeopardy.”
Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist but Trump critic, summed up the president’s predicament, asking, “Is his goose cooked on this? It depends on what’s in there.”
But she also noted that Trump’s lawyers might encourage the former president to curb his public pronouncements, for fear that further attacks on prosecutors would put him in even greater legal jeopardy.
Trump clearly has no intention of going quiet just yet. But his apoplectic reaction on Monday suggests he knows the depth of the danger he faces.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage. Morgan Chalfant contributed.