EconoMatters, Rethinking America

Trump’s Trial Risks Rise Big-Time

The courts move to the center of the U.S. political debate.

Credit: Joseph Sohm - Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • The risks to President Donald Trump’s political future are mounting. Court room drama is pushing aside the Trump denials and the outrageous “spin” in his daily Tweets.
  • Investigations are being pursued by New York State prosecutors into whether the Trump Foundation was a legitimate charity, or a front to hide political campaign contributions and income for the Trump family.
  • Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is providing New York State and Federal US investigators with documents and audio tapes that cover a range of activities involving Trump.
  • Since his election, Trump has stated that government ethics rules do not apply to him, that he can continue to own businesses, including his Washington, D.C. hotel.
  • The more the court cases raise the heat on Trump, so the more he will seek to divert public attention with outrageous announcements.

The risks to President Donald Trump’s political future are mounting. Court room drama is pushing aside the Trump denials and the outrageous “spin” in his daily Tweets.

In an earlier article, I emphasized that Trump’s refusal to publish his tax returns suggests that he has something to hide and that their public release could do enormous damage to his prospects for remaining in the White House.

Four distinct actions that will be guided now by judges, and not by politicians, whether Trump or his sycophants in Congress, nor by his public relations agency located in the commentary box of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.

Tax returns may be key

First, investigations are being pursued by New York State prosecutors into whether the Trump Foundation was a legitimate charity, or a front to hide political campaign contributions and income for the Trump family. The particular significance of these investigations is that they could lead to demands by the attorneys to review Trump’s personal taxes.

Second, Trump’s former personal lawyer and “fixer” of delicate deals, Michael Cohen, is providing New York State and Federal U.S. investigators with documents and audio tapes that cover a range of activities involving Trump. These include payments in late 2016, shortly before the presidential election, to two women to buy their silence about their alleged affairs with Trump.

New York State prosecutors have now issued a subpoena to cross-examine Allen Weisselberg on issues that are emerging from the Cohen investigation. Weisselberg is the veteran chief financial officer of the Trump Organization and the man who knows absolutely everything about the Trump company, as well as the family’s finances.

Foreign payments

Third, a federal judge has recently ruled that a case may proceed that has been brought by the attorneys-general for the nation’s capital and the state of Maryland against the President for violation of the so-called “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution. The judge overruled the Justice Department’s contention that the clause narrowly relates to taking bribes. The judge determined it may relate to all forms of income from foreign sources.

At the center of the case is Trump’s continued ownership of the Trump Hotel just 200 meters from the White House. The hotel is leased from the U.S. government and this alone may make Trump’s ownership a legal violation now that he is a government employee.

More seriously, since his election, Trump has stated that government ethics rules do not apply to him, that he can continue to own businesses, including his Washington, D.C. hotel. He has no doubt made a considerable amount of money from the scores of diplomats and foreign dignitaries that have stayed at the hotel and hosted lavish parties there.

Just how much money has Trump made? The answer may be revealed as the discovery phase of the case starts to develop and the officials bringing the case against the President demand to see his tax returns. The litigants are confident that the judge in the case will support such efforts.

Manafort trial starts

And fourth and finally, the trial is starting in Alexandria, Virginia, just down the Potomac River from the White House, of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The judge has stated that the prosecutors must confine the evidence presented in the case to the specific charges against Manafort, which include money laundering, bank fraud and tax evasion, and refrain from bringing allegations that Trump colluded with Russians to rig the 2016 election.

It is not far-fetched to suggest that Manafort’s multiple dark financial dealings in Ukraine and in Russia may have overlapped with some dealings by the Trump organization, which may raise questions of whether the Trumps have in any way been involved in any forms of money laundering. Again, such questions would increase pressure on the President to publish his tax returns.

Grabbing the headlines

This will be a hot August and September in the courts and President Trump, not to mention Republican Party candidates facing elections in November, will worry about the damage that public prosecutors and trial witnesses may do.

To deflect media and public attention from all these cases in coming weeks we can expect the President and his chief legal advisor, Rudi Giuliani, to go to considerable lengths to hog the news.

For example, Trump is now making more and more major policy announcements at an ever-accelerating pace, bewildering both his friends and his opponents. For example, within 24 hours he announced that:

• he would gladly meet with leaders of Iran without any prior conditions (after having earlier threatened war);

• he declared that if Congress does not fund his famous U.S.-Mexico border wall then he will close the Federal government; and,

• notwithstanding legislation that gave America’s rich vast tax cuts earlier this year, the Trump team is now suggesting that a further $100 billion cut in capital gains taxes is being considered.

The more the court cases raise the heat on Trump, so the more he will seek to divert public attention with outrageous announcements, combined with a constant mass of Tweets vilifying his critics, public prosecutors, FBI investigators, judges and the mainstream American media.

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About Frank Vogl

Frank Vogl is co-founder of Transparency International and author of Waging War on Corruption: Inside the Movement Fighting the Abuse of Power. [Washington D.C., United States]

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