One of the reasons Trump is so desperate to stay in the White House is that he thinks it will shield him from criminal charges. That questionable DOJ opinion protects him from being indicted by the federal prosecutors while he’s in office, and another questionable move he could make would be to pardon himself (or resign at 11:55 AM on Jan 20, 2021, and have President Pence do it). But there is no pardon for state crimes, and the DOJ opinion doesn’t apply.
None of that gets him off the hook for state crimes, at least once he's out of office — another reason for him to cling to the Resolute Desk. There’s been speculation about whether he could be indicted, or even tried, for state crimes while still in office. That speculation may be about to get less theoretical:
The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which has been locked in a yearlong legal battle with President Trump over obtaining his tax returns, suggested for the first time on Monday that it had grounds to investigate him and his businesses for tax fraud.
For starters, this will make Vance’s argument for this subpoenas a stronger one:
[P]rosecutors listed news reports and public testimony that alleged misconduct by Mr. Trump and his businesses. The reports, prosecutors wrote, would justify a grand jury inquiry into a range of possible crimes, including tax and insurance fraud and falsification of business records. It was the first time the office had included tax fraud among the possible areas of investigation.
“Even if the grand jury were testing the truth of public allegations alone, such reports, taken together, fully justify the scope of the grand jury subpoena at issue in this case,” prosecutors wrote.
And their inquiry is now beyond those hush money payments and into broader fraud:
More recently, prosecutors suggested in court papers that their inquiry was broader, including a focus on possible financial crimes and insurance fraud. The prosecutors said they viewed Mr. Trump’s records as central to their investigation.
It’s not at all clear what would happen if a state DA indicts a sitting (or in this case, squatting) president on state crimes. At a minimum, it should (IANAL) freeze the statute of limitations, meaning Trump not only has incentive to cheat in this election, but to try to weasel around the XXII Amendment limiting him to two terms (or just to dispense with elections altogether, which is what he really wants to do).
What this means for us is we need to work even harder to pry him loose from the “Crown Jewel of the federal penal system” so he can be hauled off to a more traditional prison. State or federal.
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