The Legal Lynch Mob Going After Trump

There has been an increasingly frenzied gusher of leaks from the offices of New York County’s District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Jr., telling breathless journalists that the grand jury is about to indict The Trump Organization, maybe as early as next week.  These leaks specifically relate to the sitting grand jury (which just continued a previous one dating back to 2018).  These leaks tell the public that the grand jury will indict Donald Trump any day now.

Of course, the hyper-ventilating journalists are confusing an “any day now” indictment of The Trump Organization (a company) with an arrest of Donald Trump as a person. Within a few hours of publication of this article, Politico and other outlets are claiming that leaks indiucate there will be no indictment, while the New York Times claims, "An indictment against the business, the Trump Organization, and a top executive, Allen Weisselberg, could come as soon as this week in Manhattan."

Cyrus Vance, Jr. (photo credit: Saffie 55 CC BY SA 3.0 license)

However, some activists crow that if Trump’s business is indicted, this will trigger a financial collapse of Trump’s empire.  They argue that all contracts will be automatically cancelled, and loans ‘called’ in because TTO is under indictment (though innocent until proven guilty).  Thus, they gleefully predict, Trump will be ruined.  That makes Vance’s leaks more damaging than Giuliani allegedly casting doubt on Biden’s status as President.

New York Penal Law § 215.70 “Unlawful grand jury disclosure” says:

A person is guilty of unlawful grand jury disclosure when, being a grand juror, a public prosecutor, a grand jury stenographer, a grand jury interpreter, a police officer or a peace officer guarding a witness in a grand jury proceeding, or a clerk, attendant, warden or other public servant having official duties in or about a grand jury room or proceeding, or a public officer or public employee, he intentionally discloses to another the nature or substance of any grand jury testimony, or any decision, result or other matter attending a grand jury proceeding which is required by law to be kept secret, except in the proper discharge of his official duties or upon written order of the court. Nothing contained herein shall prohibit a witness from disclosing his own testimony. Unlawful grand jury disclosure is a class E felony.

One of the reasons why it is a Class E Felony in New York to reveal what the grand jury is doing is to avoid people being publicly smeared if they are never in fact indicted.

Why is the D.A.’s office so desperate to make the public believe that – any day now – Trump is going to be hauled off in hand cuffs?  New York City is of course extremely left-wing politically.

But even without politics, if prosecutors get their name in print, get a book deal, and land a cushy job at the Brookings Institution or a big law firm, does it matter if the gambit succeeds or fails?  Democrats spent four years trying various attacks on Trump with no chance of winning.

Would prosecutors bluff witnesses and defendants?  I’ve seen it many times.  Vance could be trying to squeeze witnesses to cooperate by bluffing that he has a stronger case than he really does.  The media gambit could be to flush quail out of the bushes.

How do I know that the prosecutors do not have a good case against Trump?   Because (a) they keep huffing and puffing, but (b) it’s been five months since Trump left office.  The contrast between claims they are about to indict against the fact that they keep delaying speaks volumes.

If they do indict later, this long delay is still enlightening.  It is not that hard to type up an indictment.  Once all the evidence is in at a level where they can say an indictment is likely, all that is left is typing.  That should only take a few days.

What is Vance waiting for?  My conclusion is that he’s got nothing.  Trump’s tax returns were already in the hands of New York tax authorities for years.  The courts merely allowed Vance to have his own copy – officially.

First the leaks told us that Vance’s office was investigating Trump’s company’s transactions in the 1990s.  That is way outside the statute of limitations.

Then we were told that, oh, no, the focus is on whether Trump under-valued real estate for tax purposes.  Small problem:  The government Tax Assessor tells landowners what the property is worth and what tax you are going to pay.

Trump supposedly over-valued real estate to get loans.  But lenders hire their own appraisers. 

You can tell a lender how much you hope to borrow.  But you don’t tell them what you think your property is worth.  They don’t care what you think.  That’s what appraisers are for.

Or Trump over-valued real estate for insurance purposes:  Small problem:  It doesn’t matter how much you value your property at for insurance purposes.  If there is a loss, the owner must prove actual loss and the actual dollar amount.  What you put down on your application does not control.  So, if Trump over-valued real estate for insurance purposes, he cheated himself out of higher premiums.  Or maybe he playing it safe if the actual amount of actual losses that are provable turn out to be worse than imagined.  (It’s like suing for a billion dollars.  One still has to prove the actual loss.)

But now, in the latest version, Vance’s office reportedly is pressuring The Trump Organization’s Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg to turn on Trump.  Small problem with forcing people to talk:  They might have nothing to say.

Now the issue is that TTO paid the tuition for Weisselberg’s grandchildren, thereby reducing the amount of taxes paid by both Weisselberg and TTO.  But that’s exactly what “fringe benefits” do and exactly why they were created.  Employers and employees legally reduce the amount of taxes paid in compensating the employee.  And, yes, educational tuition for the executive or his family has always been an example of fringe benefits.  Sure, the rules are tricky and often must apply to all employees.  A particular transaction could get disqualified.  But you don’t indict over that.

Almost every company in the United States compensates employees, especially executives, with fringe benefits.  So if now suddenly D.A. Vance tries to criminalize that well-established practice just because people hate Trump, it is going to bring most companies in the country crashing down because executives will revolt.  Thousands of Wall Street professionals and investors will grab tar and feather, pitchforks and torches, and march on Vance’s office.  Don’t mess with their fringe benefits.

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