New York's attorney general has President Trump in a Catch-22
President Trump recently lost an appeal and must testify in a civil investigation by New York State attorney general Letitia James. Her action was taken based on testimony and evidence given by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. This is the same Michael Cohen who pleaded guilty to eight counts, including criminal tax evasion and campaign finance violations.
While we may not be privy to the inner workings of our justice departments in the United States, it seems rather convenient that the government could take evidence from Michael Cohen regarding his claims of the improprieties of President Trump's financial records after Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts. We could question the entire agreement the Justice Department made with him.
It is necessary to point out that Michael Cohen was Trump's attorney, not his accountant or financial adviser. This is necessary because Mr. Cohen may or may not be aware of the rules of accounting. He has, after all, pleaded guilty to tax and financial crimes. He may be guilty of incompetence more than outright fraud. I wonder if his attorneys ever considered that defense.
Michael Cohen claims to have documents showing that President Trump uses different valuations of his wealth based on what purpose the statements are required for. Mr. Cohen may not be aware that this is consistent with the standards of accounting set forth by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). If he is aware, he may have offered this information in a misleading way to save himself from a lengthy imprisonment.
I wrote about these rules of accounting in a previous edition of the American Thinker and how it relates to President Trump's business and profession. Without needing to see his business and personal financial statements, I am certain that they differ significantly. I explain in that previous article why that is the case.
What Attorney General James has done is placed President Trump in a legal Catch-22. The original Catch-22 was a governmental loophole involved in Joseph Heller's satirical novel Catch-22, later a movie written by Buck Henry. The storyline: A bombardier in World War II tries desperately to escape the insanity of the war. However, sometimes insanity is the only sane way to cope with a crazy situation. In other words, the bombardier tries to get out of the service by claiming he is insane, but the army determines that being insane is a natural reaction to the insanity of war.
This is exactly the predicament set up by the Justice Department. I like Webster's third definition of a Catch-22: a hidden difficulty or means of entrapment. The famous New York chief judge Sol Wachtler once said: prosecutors can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.
If this prosecution against the former president is successful, it could lead to greater problems in the future. Will others who follow the rules of accounting be found guilty of "following the rules"? Will overzealous prosecutors find they can indict more than just a ham sandwich? If not, then is the case against Trump only a case of selective prosecution? This happens when a criminal prosecution is brought at the discretion of a prosecutor rather than as a matter of course in the normal functioning of the prosecuting authority's office.
Furthermore, the enforcement or prosecution of criminal laws against a particular class of persons and the simultaneous failure to administer criminal laws against others outside the targeted class is prima facie evidence of selective prosecution. It violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Where do we go from here if that happens? Do we start prosecuting otherwise innocent people?
I recently met the Republican candidate for New York attorney general, Michael Henry. I mentioned my assessment of the case of President Trump being targeted by the current attorney general. He agreed with me and added several other legal incidents of legal misconduct that he believes Letitia James has committed.
At this point, if President Trump testifies, he could be deemed guilty by Attorney General James if he admits to following the rules of accounting set forth by the profession's authority, the AICPA. In short, she has accused him of following the rules of accounting, which she claims is a violation of the law. Her real purpose of this case could be summed up by one of Webster's synonyms for Catch-22: gotcha.
David Ennocenti is a retired accountant and graduate of the State University of N.Y. at Buffalo, School of Management with a degree in accounting and finance. He passed the CPA Examination in 1983. His writing has appeared in American Thinker, USA Today, The New York Times, and several other publications. His screenplay, Sniper Queen, was an official selection of The Artemis Women in Action Films Festival. He is a past winner of the Writer's Digest Annual Competition.