In Legal Battles Against the President, New York May Hold the Trump Card


As Mueller’s case against Trump heats up and his lackeys go running for plea deals, it’s easy to forget that the President has other legal matters on his mind. While he’s busy bellowing about his presidential immunity in the Russia investigation, plaintiffs and courts across the Eastern seaboard are getting more and more comfortable with prosecuting the President for his economic wrongdoings—and New York City, home to Trump’s many unsavory business empires, is finding itself at the center of things.

Donald Trump’s relationship with New York has been long (he’s a good old boy from Queens) and iconic (his name has long been plastered all over the city’s real estate, from his hotels to Trump Plaza to the now-defunct Trump University). But in this instance, the local boy has done bad, and done it so many times that New York has become a proving ground for both the President’s future and the legal strategies that could potentially undo him. Many legal experts agree that New York’s legal beagles—less restrained by presidential protections than the Mueller team decamped in Washington—could be the key to Trump’s comeuppance.

Can state and city attorneys succeed in mounting local challenges against the leader of the free world?

They’re wasting no time finding out. New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood has been dragging Trump through the courtroom mud since June, suing him for using his Trump Foundation as a piggy bank for hush money, campaign expenditures, and—of course—a giant portrait of Trump for one of his many corporate offices. If successful, the lawsuit would dissolve the Foundation, bar Trump and his family members from operating or serving on nonprofit boards for a decade, extract financial penalties, and require the President to repay the $2.8 million raised for the Foundation at a campaign fundraiser in Iowa. And while Trump threatens to pardon himself in the Russia investigation, a New York state judge recently allowed Underwood’s case to go forward in the face of Trump’s objections, creating an uneasy precedent for bringing the President to task, Empire State style.

Meanwhile, Underwood is fighting to close a double jeopardy legal loophole so that states can prosecute federal actors who have been pardoned, and Governor Andrew Cuomo is flirting with a criminal case against the Foundation. But that’s not all. Underwood is also investigating Trump’s New York businesses for potentially violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars elected officials from taking gifts or money from foreign governments without congressional approval. (Meanwhile, back at the District of Columbia ranch, a judge just ruled that Democrats have standing to sue Trump for similar alleged offenses, which would open the Foundations finances and the President’s tax returns to the disinfectant of democratic inquiry.) Then there’s Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to eight felonies—including Trump-directed hush payments to adult film stars and Playboy models—and Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance’s determination to investigate the Trump Organization. And back in Albany, Cuomo’s top dogs are busy looking into Trump’s tax returns, sniffing out signs of foul play.

None of this looks good for Trump, who played fast and loose with the law prior to his installment in the White House and who seems to believe he can continue to do so as President. The legal moat the President has fashioned in Washington may work in the capital, but in the capital of finance, money talks loudly and always shares its secrets. Only time will tell if New York will be more instrumental than Washington in the legal battle against the President, but the cases on the docket now have already struck an immediate and withering blow to the idea that the he is safe from investigation.

Ash Sanders