Why One of Trump’s Biggest Legal Threats Is New York’s Attorney General

This is the Trump Docket, where we track some of the most important legal cases of the Trump presidency and how their results could shape presidential power. Questions, comments, or thoughts about cases to cover?

After two years of legal wrangling, the Trump Foundation will soon be no more. Last month, in the midst of a dramatic month for cases that stem from President Trump’s pre-presidency life, a judge signed off on a plan to shutter Trump’s much-criticized personal foundation. Under the new agreement, the foundation will be dissolved under court supervision.

In effect, the deal implies that the foundation cannot be trusted to disburse its remaining $1.7 million to legitimate nonprofits. But even though the foundation is dissolving, the lawsuit against the foundation will continue, with the New York attorney general seeking damages for the foundation’s alleged “extensive and persistent violations of state and federal law,” including the illegal use of foundation money to pay off legal settlements, buy portraits of Trump, and promote Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The December settlement is an important reminder of the risk that the state of New York poses for Trump. In particular, New York is uniquely well-positioned to go after Trump where it could hurt him most — through his businesses. In fact, New York has been one of the most significant and I’d argue most underrated legal hazards for Trump since he began his campaign for president. Here are three reasons why.

New York has jurisdiction over Trump’s family businesses
Pursuing legal challenges against Trump has become something of a sport among Democratic attorneys general over the past two years, but most of these fights focus on actions taken by Trump’s administration rather than matters that implicate him personally. But because Trump’s businesses and his presidential campaign are registered in New York, state officials have the authority to investigate and potentially prosecute him for violations of state law.

Trump’s attorneys have argued in a separate case that involves a former “Apprentice” contestant who’s suing Trump for defamation in New York that as president, he should be immune to lawsuits in state courts. It’s an open constitutional question, but two judges have already come down against Trump, saying that when unofficial conduct is involved, there’s no reason to exempt the president from state lawsuits. The case is still being appealed, but even if it’s decided in Trump’s favor, legal actions could still be brought against his businesses or children.

Worse still for Trump, state prosecutions are pardon-proof, since the president’s power to grant clemency extends only to federal crimes. This means that while Trump could pardon an associate or family member implicated in, for example, the Mueller investigation (or even try to pardon himself), his get-out-of-jail-free card won’t work in New York. There’s even been a push to amend New York’s double jeopardy laws to make it possible for someone convicted (and, hypothetically, pardoned) under federal law to be prosecuted for corresponding violations of state law.

 

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