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New York AG's office issues bank subpoenas on Trump projects

The New York attorney general's office has some questions for Donald Trump's former bank. That should probably make the president nervous.
In this photo taken Dec. 21, 2106, the Trump International Hotel in Washington. 

This New York Times report seems like the sort of thing that might get Donald Trump's attention.

The New York attorney general's office late on Monday issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records relating to the financing of four major Trump Organization projects and a failed effort to buy the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League in 2014, according to a person briefed on the subpoenas. [...]The request to Deutsche Bank sought loan applications, mortgages, lines of credit and other financing transactions in connection with the Trump International Hotel in Washington; the Trump National Doral outside Miami; and the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, the person said.

As viewers of The Rachel Maddow Show know, Deutsche Bank was, for quite a while, one of the few lending institutions that was willing to work with Trump. It's also become the focus of renewed interest following Michael Cohen's recent congressional testimony, in which Trump's former fixer suggested the president engaged in alleged bank fraud before taking office.

Indeed, as Bloomberg News recently reported, "How President Donald Trump may have inflated and deflated his personal wealth is more than mere curiosity: "It could be of keen interest to any authorities trying to figure out if he misrepresented himself to insurance companies and lenders.... If falsehoods went to financial institutions, that would provide fertile ground for prosecutors in New York."

It's against this backdrop that the office of New York's attorney general, Letitia James, started issuing subpoenas yesterday about Trump-specific projects. In fact, the reference to the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago stood out for a reason.

The Washington Post last week obtained copies of some of the president's financial statements, some of which seemed to exaggerate the value of assets, and some of which "exaggerated his wealth by leaving things out. In 2011 and 2012, for instance, the Statements of Financial Condition omitted his hotel in Chicago, which was carrying a high debt load. The likely result: Trump's overall debt seemed smaller."

This is now one of the projects of interest to the New York AG's office.

Given the scope and scale of the scandals surrounding Trump, some may assume this line of inquiry is less provocative than other ongoing controversies. I'd suggest ignoring that assumption.

Circling back to our coverage from last week, it is a felony to perpetrate a fraud against financial institutions -- and given the timeline for the incidents in question, the statute of limitations has not expired for actions Trump may have taken earlier this decade.

What's more, we know this isn't some kind of financial version of jaywalking, which no one is ever prosecuted for. In fact, we were recently reminded of the opposite: Paul Manafort, who led Trump's political operation in 2016, was convicted on a variety of felony counts, including defrauding banks and other financial institutions.

What's more, Michael Cohen himself will soon go to jail for, among other things, making "false statements for the purpose of influencing the actions of a financial institution."

At this point, I imagine some of the White House's allies will compare going after the president for financial fraud to going after Al Capone for tax evasion. In fact, last year, some Trump allies pushed this exact line -- as if other misdeeds, outside of possible "collusion" with Russia, don't really count.

Unfortunately for the president, criminal law doesn't work this way. When prosecutors are presented with evidence of a felony, the accused doesn't get to say, "Yeah, but those crimes aren't as dramatic as some of the other stuff I was investigated for doing."