New York's Probe Into Trump Organization Is Now A Criminal Inquiry

May 19, 2021
Originally published on May 19, 2021 12:47 pm

The New York state attorney general's office has widened its probe into the Trump Organization to include an examination of potential criminal wrongdoing, according to the office's spokesman.

Previously, the office was investigating former President Donald Trump's namesake company in a solely civil matter with New York Attorney General Letitia James focusing on whether the company improperly valued its assets for loan and tax purposes.

However, now the state's investigation has entered "a criminal capacity," spokesman Fabien Levy confirmed to NPR late Tuesday.

"We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature," Levy said in a statement. "We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA."

Levy said additional details couldn't be shared at this time. It was not immediately clear whether the former president himself, or members of his family, were part of this latest criminal investigation. It's also unclear when the attorney general notified the Trump Organization of the broadening scope of the probe.

The expanded state case against the Trump Organization means the company and former president could face two criminal cases from separate prosecutors.

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is already in the middle of a wide-ranging fraud investigation. In February, following a protracted legal battle, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. obtained the former president's tax returns. Prosecutors have focused on Trump's business dealings and those of his associates, including his chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and Weisselberg's family.

Vance has said the statute of limitations for bringing charges against the company will soon expire. His term also ends on Dec. 31.

If one or both of the prosecutors believes there is enough evidence to charge the former president, his associates, or his company, an official complaint will likely be filed by the end of the year.

Trump, Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have denied any wrongdoing and have said the prosecutors are politically motivated.

In a statement Wednesday, Trump said of the probe: "There is nothing more corrupt than an investigation that is in desperate search of a crime."

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump is now being investigated by two prosecutors in New York. The New York state attorney general said last night that she had expanded what was a civil case into a criminal investigation. That is in addition to an already-existing, wide-ranging criminal fraud investigation by the Manhattan district attorney. Andrea Bernstein from member station WNYC joins us to talk about all this. Andrea, thanks for being here.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So remind us what New York's attorney general had been investigating.

BERNSTEIN: So New York Attorney General Letitia James has been looking into a pattern of whether Trump would criminally and deliberately undervalue properties when, say, he had to pay taxes. And then she's trying to find out if Trump deliberately and criminally overvalued those same properties when he wanted a tax write-off. As part of the investigation, the AG went to court last fall to force Eric Trump to testify in a deposition. And at the time, she said in court papers, it wasn't a criminal case. But now her office has decided otherwise, and it said last night it is, quote, "now actively investigating The Trump Organization in a criminal capacity."

MARTIN: So remind us of the other criminal investigation, this one coming out of the office of the Manhattan DA.

BERNSTEIN: So that's the one of a possible protracted criminal fraud involving banks, insurance and taxes. And this is the case where DA Cyrus Vance Jr. went to the U.S. Supreme Court twice to get Trump's tax returns. He finally got them in February, and since then, prosecutors have been digging into Trump's business dealings and those of his associates, particularly his chief operating officer, Allen Weisselberg, and Weisselberg's family. Now, Trump, Weisselberg and The Trump Organization have denied any wrongdoing, and Trump has said the prosecutions are politically motivated.

MARTIN: Are there any intersections here? I mean, are the two prosecutors working together?

BERNSTEIN: Yes. So this is a bit unusual because in New York, the AG and the DA have historically been rivals, but in this case, they are working together. Two assistant attorneys general have now joined the DA's team of prosecutors. This is a complicated case involving millions of pages of tax returns and other documents and a sprawling international business, and what we're seeing is that both of them are making a very determined and coordinated effort to sift through evidence of possible crimes.

MARTIN: So where does this go? Where do both of them go?

BERNSTEIN: So the first major public step would be an indictment, and the Manhattan DA has both a case clock - I mean, he has been saying from the beginning of his attempt to get the records that statutes of limitation are running. He also has a personal clock. Cyrus Vance's term ends on December 31. He's not running for reelection. So if one or both of these prosecutors believe there is sufficient evidence a crime was committed, they could be charging the former president and his associates or his company with crimes before the end of this year.

MARTIN: Andrea Bernstein from member station WNYC. Andrea, thanks as always for your reporting.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Great talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.