Earlier this month, the news surfaced that the Manhattan District Attorney had been meeting with Michael Cohen in prison, and that he had given Cohen a new deal in exchange. This made it fairly clear that New York is looking to indict Donald Trump and/or members of the Trump Organization on state level charges. But today’s news just changed everything.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has sent a grand jury subpoena to Donald Trump’s accounting firm, for eight years of Trump’s tax returns, according to NBC News. Two things are key here. First, this is a grand jury subpoena, not the usual congressional subpoena – meaning the accountant will be arrested for contempt if he ultimately refuses to cooperate. In other words, there’s a good chance the accountant will cooperate. In fact, this kind of news tends to be leaked after the subpoenaed documents have already been obtained.
Second, the existence of a grand jury subpoena means there’s a grand jury in place. The only reason a grand jury exists is to indict people on criminal charges. And because this subpoena is clearly and squarely targeted at Donald Trump, there is no doubt whatsoever that these grand jury proceedings are targeting Donald Trump for criminal indictment.
Some observers are pointing to the fact that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has a past history of letting powerful people off the hook, in exchange for donations to his reelection campaign. But we’ve been seeing reports for months that Vance is under federal investigation for this, and the post-Trump DOJ could end up trying to take him down for corruption. It looks like Vance is now trying to take Trump down as a way of bailing himself out. In any case, Vance isn’t running the show here. New York Attorney General Tish James is, and she’s not going to let Trump off the hook.
This leads to the obvious, yet still-unanswered question of when New York will indict Donald Trump. That can easily happen while he’s still in office, as the silly DOJ rule about not indicting a sitting president only applies to federal charges. They can do it tomorrow if they want. The question would be whether New York could actually put Trump on trial while he’s in office, with or without his presence. In any case, if Trump loses in 2020, it’s now clear that he’ll be arrested and taken into custody the minute his term ends – and no, he can’t magically stay in office if he loses. That’s not a real thing. Law enforcement would drag him out by his heels.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report