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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, March 24, 2019 1:00 am

Trump's legal worries extend well beyond Mueller

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – For 22 months, Donald Trump's presidency has been haunted largely by one legal foe, a Washington prosecutor with seemingly unlimited power, but was also a single target for Trump to portray as the leader of an unfair “witch hunt.”

And yet even as one legal cloud lifts with the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, others loom large on the horizon – creating additional threats to the president's standing as he seeks to shift attention toward his 2020 re-election campaign.

Nearly every organization Trump has run over the last decade remains under investigation by state or federal authorities, and he is mired in a variety of civil litigation, with the center of gravity shifting from Mueller's offices in southwest Washington to Capitol Hill and state and federal courtrooms in New York, the president's hometown and the headquarters of his company.

Federal prosecutors in New York have been investigating hush money paid before the 2016 election to two women who said they had affairs with Trump. Prosecutors in that office are also probing Trump's inaugural committee, which raised and spent record amounts of money.

The president's personal conduct will also be under the microscope in the coming months, when he is scheduled to sit for a deposition in a lawsuit filed in New York state by a former contestant on his reality television show who alleges he groped her in 2007 and then lied about it during the election.

State authorities in New York, the District of Columbia and New Jersey are investigating a variety of issues related to Trump's private business and charity.

Congressional Democrats have issued dozens of requests for information about various topics related to Mueller's investigation, the operations of Trump's White House and Trump's private business, and have signaled they will press forward with those matters.

Trump told Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo on Friday that he and his lawyers were in the dark about any investigation other than Mueller.

“They say there are lots of things, but I don't know about these things, OK, just so you understand,” he said.

New York cases

In New York, federal prosecutors have been active on two investigations that could cause problems for Trump, his family and other close associates.

Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance law by arranging pre-election payments to two women who said they had extramarital affairs with Trump. Cohen told a federal judge that his actions were intended to silence the women to help Trump win the election. Cohen said he had been directed by Trump, who was referred to in court documents drawn up by federal prosecutors in Manhattan as “Individual-1.”

The status of the investigation is not clear. Cohen in May will begin serving a three-year prison term for his involvement in the scheme, as well as various financial crimes and for lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

When Cohen was sentenced, prosecutors announced they had reached a settlement with American Media Inc., the company that publishes the National Enquirer, for its role in paying off one of the two women – a possible sign the investigation into the payments had been concluded.

But Cohen told Congress in public testimony recently that he was aware of potentially illegal behavior by Trump that he could not discuss because he believed it remained the subject of ongoing investigation by New York prosecutors.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in Manhattan in February also issued a wide-ranging subpoena to the presidential inaugural committee, the entity that organized Trump's $107 million festivities when he took office in January 2017. The request sought documents covering nearly every aspect of the committee's activities.

In addition, the committee has also received subpoenas from attorneys general offices in New Jersey and the District of Columbia, which are each investigating whether the nonprofit committee's spending fulfilled its charitable aims.


Federal prosecutors are also scheduled to try one of Trump's oldest friends and confidantes, Roger Stone, in Washington in November. Stone has been charged with lying to Congress about his efforts to find out what material WikiLeaks held before the 2016 election. The anti-secrecy site upended the campaign by publishing emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that prosecutors have said were stolen by Russian operatives.

Stone was charged jointly by Mueller's office and prosecutors in Washington. With the end of Mueller's probe, it appears likely the case will be taken over entirely by the District of Columbia U.S. attorney's office.

Charity, business

Trump and his company are also facing a battery of investigations from state authorities in New York.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, is suing Trump in state court because of what the state called “persistently illegal conduct” at Trump's 30-year-old charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation. The suit says Trump used the charity's money to buy paintings of himself, to pay off legal settlements for his for-profit businesses, and to give his own presidential campaign a boost during the 2016 Republican primaries.

Trump and his children Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric have also been sued; they were all technically members of a charity board that hadn't met since 1999, the attorney general's office says. Trump has agreed to shutter the foundation, but the case is still pending.

In addition, Trump's company appears to be the focus of two new state inquiries that followed the congressional testimony by Cohen. Cohen told a House committee in February that Trump had submitted inflated summaries of his assets to both insurers and would-be lenders, seeking to mislead them about the state of his net worth.

After that, state authorities sent subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and another bank that loaned money to Trump, and to Aon, Trump's longtime insurance broker.

State investigators in both New York and New Jersey have spoken to an attorney for undocumented immigrants who worked for years at Trump's golf clubs, according to the attorney. In January, the company fired at least 18 workers – many of them longtime employees – after an audit found that their immigration documents were fraudulent. Neither the New York nor the New Jersey attorney general has commented, nor have they confirmed that they had opened investigations.

Trump is also facing two federal lawsuits alleging that he has violated the Constitution because his private company continues to do business with foreign governments.

The Constitution prohibits presidents from taking “emoluments” from foreign states, or the governments of individual U.S. states.

'Apprentice' star

One of Trump's most pressing legal perils comes from a civil lawsuit filed in New York by Summer Zervos, a former “Apprentice” contestant.

Zervos was one of about a dozen women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct before the 2016 election, and she filed suit in 2017, arguing that Trump defamed her when he called his accusers “liars.”

A New York appellate court this month denied a request by Trump to dismiss the suit.

His lawyers have said they plan to appeal, but if the ruling stands, it means Trump would likely have to sit for a deposition in the matter in coming months. He would face questions about Zervos's allegations.

Her lawyers would probably seek to ask the president questions about his treatment of other women.

Trump could face serious consequences if he were to lie in the deposition. After all, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton began after he was accused of lying in a deposition in a civil sexual harassment suit filed by Paula Jones.