New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this week has made a criminal case against Donald Trump much more likely.
First, on Wednesday, we reported that:
“New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday opened the door to a possible criminal case against the Donald J. Trump Foundation with a statement from his counsel that Cuomo was prepared to provide a criminal referral if asked.”
— CNN (@CNN) July 19, 2018
Cuomo’s office issued a statement saying:
“At Governor Cuomo’s direction, the state stands ready to provide the New York Attorney General with the appropriate criminal referral on this matter if and when she asks for it.”
The background is that New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a civil lawsuit against Donald Trump, three of his children and the Trump Foundation in June. That lawsuit states that the Trumps illegally used the nonprofit foundation as a personal “checkbook” for their own benefit. The suit also says that foundation funds were used in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
In order to move from the civil lawsuit to a criminal case, the Attorney General must receive a criminal referral. Given the facts of the case, it is reasonable to think that Underwood would be open to requesting such a criminal referral, but she has not done so.
Underwood’s office said in a statement after the governor’s action on Wednesday:
“We continue to evaluate the evidence to determine what additional actions may be warranted, and will seek a criminal referral from the appropriate state agency as necessary.”
In the June lawsuit Underwood had requested that a state judge dissolve the Trump Foundation and ban Donald Trump and his three children, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka from holding any significant leadership roles in any New York nonprofit organization or charity.
This civil lawsuit also claims that Trump “used the foundation’s name and funds it raised from the public to pay off his legal debts, promote Trump-branded hotels and other businesses and to purchase personal items.”
In an intriguing additional comment, Underwood also said that “the New York Attorney General’s office intends to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for its misuse of charitable assets.”
By saying she intends to hold people “accountable” Understood seems to imply that she will seek criminal prosecution if they become aware of violations of New York law.
And, if the State of New York convicts Donald, Don Jr, Eric or Ivanka of a crime, they cannot be pardoned by the president, who can only pardon for federal crimes. Most of the Trump family’s alleged financial crimes took place in the State of New York.
Yesterday the possibility of Trump being charged with crimes under the laws of New York increased significantly, when it was announced that the state “has opened an investigation into whether the Trump Foundation violated state tax laws, which could lead to a criminal referral for possible prosecution.”
The New York Department of Taxation and Finance opened the tax law investigation based on information Underwood had obtained in the process of filing her civil lawsuit last month.
The tax investigation will uncover more information than the civil suit, including possibly the president’s tax returns.
If the Department of Taxation turns up criminal activity they will refer it to the state attorney general’s office for possible prosecution.
Underwood still has not committed to a criminal investigation or any criminal charges against the Trump’s at this time. However, with the new developments from Cuomo’s office and the Department of Taxation, it appears that the stage has been set for New York criminal charges to be issued against Donald Trump and his children in the near future. All that needs to happen is for the state tax investigators to find violations of state tax law, which appears to be likely.
If that happens then Underwood will have to ask Governor Cuomo for a referral to file state criminal charges against Trump and his three children.
And if that happens, the floodgates might open, leading to even more crimes being uncovered.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.