Donald Trump is no stranger to investigations. We’ve seen the Russia investigation, which grew into the Mueller investigation. There was the whistleblower investigation that became an investigation into the former president’s affairs with Ukraine. Then there were the investigations of his associates such as Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, and now Rudy Giuliani. But two investigations of Trump himself that have been going on in the background now seem to be bearing fruit.
One of the big problems for Trump is the New York State Attorney General’s fraud investigation, which a spokesman announced yesterday, is now a criminal investigation, or to put it euphemistically, is “no longer purely civil in nature.”
Fabian Levy, a spokesman for N.Y. Attorney General Leticia James, told Politico in an email, “We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan D.A. We have no additional comment at this time.”
Especially if you’re a Trump supporter, you might ask, “ Why now?” The answer is that the investigations began years ago in 2019 but were stymied by President Trump’s refusal to comply with subpoenas for his financial records. After a protracted legal battle in which the president’s lawyers essentially argued that presidents were above the law and did not have to comply with investigators, the Supreme Court ruled in February 2021 that Trump was no longer president so his defense was moot.
Just a few weeks earlier, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had announced that his own criminal probe of Trump’s financial dealings was expanding to include property owned by the Trump family in ritzy Westchester, N.Y., the same town where Bill and Hillary Clinton live. Per CNN, several local governments in New York had been subpoenaed for information regarding planning board files and correspondence with the Trump Organization while the Trumps had received subpoenas for property information and tax deductions. Vance is also reportedly investigating claims by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer,” that the Trumps submitted false insurance claims worth millions of dollars for alleged damage to both the Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.
The state AG investigation seems to be following along similar lines. The investigation is reportedly focused on Cohen’s claims that Trump inflated property values to secure loans, credit, and insurance coverage but deflated them to take gain tax advantages.
Trump’s defenders have long argued that the various investigations are “fishing expeditions” rooted in partisan anger over Trump’s 2016 victory. This may be true, but if so, the best response would have been to comply with the subpoenas and show that the allegations were false.
Donald Trump took the opposite tack. Rather than acknowledging that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and shining light on his finances, he fought a multi-year legal battle to keep from turning his financial records over to investigators. This was despite promises made as a candidate in 2016 to release his tax returns (as President Biden and Vice President Harris have done).
A third criminal investigation was opened by the DA in Fulton County, Georgia back in March. This investigation deals with Trump’s phone calls to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after last year’s election. Last month, CNN reported that DA Fanni Willis claimed that the investigation was being slowed by lack of cooperation from the secretary of state’s office, which was conducting its own investigation into the calls.
At this point, it is plausible that the investigations of Trump are politically motivated but it is also plausible that the allegations that Trump committed fraud are true. In fact, it is possible, even likely, that the claims of political targeting and of fraud committed by the Trumps are both accurate.
A big question for all Americans is whether we want our political leaders to be above the law. Should people like Donald Trump (and Andrew Cuomo, who is also under investigation by Letitia James) be given a pass for their illegal and unethical activities because we like their political agendas or because we like their party affiliation? It is possible to hypocritically believe that only the opposition should be held to account, but this doesn’t work in practical terms.
There is also the question of whether a party would retaliate for the investigation of its own champion by launching investigations of members of the opposite party. I acknowledge that this is a troubling possibility, but I view the problem of lawless government officials as even more troubling. Retaliatory investigations are an abuse of government power, but so is abusing one’s office to cover up crimes and get away with illegal behavior.
My personal view is that politicians should be held accountable for their actions to an even greater degree than ordinary citizens. People who are charged with making sure that the rest of us obey the law should set an example by following laws, not flouting them. If these politicians don’t set a good example, they should be made an example.
That’s a fundamental concept of American democracy. We don’t elect presidents, governors, and congressmen to become kings and nobility over us. Our elected officials are here to serve the people, not the other way around. Too many in both parties forget that.
Donald Trump should be investigated if there are credible allegations of criminality and corruption (spoiler alert: there are). If he broke the law, either as president or as a private citizen, he should face the consequences of his actions.
There is a strong possibility that the investigations into Donald Trump will invigorate his base and help preserve his stature in the Republican Party. There is a segment of the Republican base that will never believe anything bad about Trump, no matter how much evidence. These people will assume that any evidence of illegal activity and corruption by The Donald is “trumped-up,” but we should not base decisions on whether to investigate or prosecute on the reaction of this cult-like wing of the party. The best solution is to treat former presidents like any other American, investigate allegations of wrongdoing, and let the chips fall where they may.
As difficult as it is politically to investigate political officials, in America, we aren’t supposed to give politicians special dispensation to ignore and break laws. If we want to avoid politically charged investigations in the future, our best bet is to elect people of good moral character and reputation.
What a novel concept.
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