This indictment exercise has the distinctly foul odor of selective prosecution.
NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE S ometimes, I wonder if Democrats are trying to get Donald Trump reelected president.
The question presses today. As our Zachary Evans reports, Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump real-estate organization, voluntarily presented himself at the office of Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., before pleading not guilty during his arraignment later Thursday. The indictment charged the CFO with violating state tax laws.
In the greater scheme of things, the charges appear to be puny. Essentially, they amount to failing to pay taxes on corporate perks — cars, apartments, and private-school tuition for executives’ children, according to the Wall Street Journal. If that’s all prosecutors have, then they have nothing. Donald Trump is not being charged, nor are his adult children who are the business’s top executives.
The Trump Organization, though, also has been indicted. Ordinarily, prosecutors shy away from charging a business. A company, after all, is just a legal form, not a person. Prosecuting the form rather than narrowly targeting people who have committed provable crimes only serves to punish innocent employees, who will lose their livelihoods if the indictment fatally destroys the business. But we are dealing not with norms but with Trump Rules fashioned by Democrats for their nemesis. If the DA can’t get Trump, he wants to be able to say he slayed the organization that bears his name.
The exercise has the distinctly foul odor of selective prosecution.
We are in a moment when violent crime is skyrocketing, but Empire State prosecutors are averting their eyes: declining to prosecute radical-left rioters and allowing gangbangers to prey on urban communities under non-enforcement, anti-police policies championed by Democrats. Somehow, though, Vance’s office has time to scorch the earth in hopes of finding something, anything, to pin on Donald Trump.
And so far, the prosecutor has come up empty.
After lavishing time and resources on a quest to acquire years of Trump’s financial records — a quest attended by media leaks about supposedly imminent bank fraud, insurance fraud, and tax-fraud charges — Vance is left trying to squeeze out of the CFO the case he apparently can’t make on the documents. And understand, if there were a case here, it would be in the documents.
As I explained in ruminating on why strong circumstantial evidence cases are more attractive to prosecutors than informant cases, documentary evidence doesn’t lie. Financial records can’t be cross-examined, they are not looking to cut a deal with prosecutors, and they don’t have an ax to grind. If there is fraud in them, it can be proved by lining them up against other records and figuring out whether the books have been cooked. If they have, you don’t need the CFO as a star witness.
Whatever Donald Trump’s financial records say, Vance has thus far not been able to whip them into a prosecutable case . . . so now he’s trying to get Weisselberg to tell him something that can’t be seen in the black-and-white of the documents. Good luck with that.
Notice, by the way, that the supposed Trump financial-fraud crimes that we’ve been told so much about in the media are all federal offenses . . . yet Weisselberg is not being hauled into federal court. As we know from the heady Michael Cohen days, it is not as though federal prosecutors were not interested in Trump — they’ve tried very hard to make a case. But they appear to have abandoned the effort, and they are nowhere to be seen in the state prosecution Vance is jointly pursuing with Letitia James, New York’s ambitious progressive attorney general and avowed Trump tormentor.
That is telling. When I was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), which is less than a stone’s throw from Vance’s office, there was no way we would ever sit on our hands and let state prosecutors take a high-profile case featuring potential federal crimes. And we didn’t have to.
See, under New York’s constitution, the state is barred from prosecuting if federal authorities bring charges based on the same factual transactions. This is not reciprocal: Under federal law’s dual-sovereignty doctrine, a state indictment presents no double-jeopardy obstacle to a federal prosecution. In effect, because New York state law favors defendants, the feds win any turf battle they choose to wage against New York state authorities (which goes a long way toward explaining why the state loves to join federal “task forces” — it is a way to avoid being cut out of the big action).
Moreover, federal conspiracy law is a lay-up for prosecutors, whereas New York criminal law has twists and turns that favor the accused, including in conspiracy cases. It is simply easier for the feds to obtain evidence and make a case, especially one involving an enterprise that does business across the country and across the globe, well beyond a single state’s jurisdiction.
No one would be hotter to make a big fraud conspiracy case against Donald Trump and his company than the Biden Justice Department. If there were something big in the indictment being unsealed today, you would not need to strain your eyes looking for federal prosecutors at Cy Vance’s press conference. The SDNY would be standing on top of him.
Maybe someday, some prosecutorial Ahab will manage to ensnare Moby Trump. For now, though, by turning Allen Weisselberg into the latest Paul Manafort — the sap in whom everyone knows prosecutors would have no interest were it not for his connection to the Big Fish — all Democrats are doing is fueling Trump’s persecution narrative.
More importantly, they are angering fair-minded people who can’t help but see a two-tiered society, with its two-tiered justice system, in which Democrats and the radicals with whom they sympathize have immunity, while no infraction by a Republican — and especially, a Trump supporter — is too trivial for a good drawing and quartering.