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Prosecutors appear to be investigating Trump Org for alleged fraud

We thought New York prosecutors were seeking Trump's financial records as part of a hush-money investigation. It turns out, the scope is far broader.
Image:  Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City
Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City on June 22, 2020.Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images

When a New York prosecutor's office sought Donald Trump's hidden financial records as part of an investigation, the Republican's lawyers came up with a novel reason to refuse: the president, they claimed, has "absolute immunity" from effectively every part of the U.S. legal process, leaving him free to ignore subpoenas and investigations.

As regular readers know, this argument was rejected by every court that heard it -- including the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, despite the high court's ideological divisions, all nine sitting justices agreed last month that Team Trump's "absolute immunity" claim was absurd.

But while that repudiation wasn't what the president hoped for, the Supreme Court's ruling in Trump v. Vance was only a partial setback: the justices sent the matter back to a lower court for further review, which offered Trump and his lawyers an opportunity to keep the process going.

A few weeks ago, the president's legal team continued to fight to keep the materials secret, insisting that the subpoena from the Manhattan district attorney's office is, among other things, too broad and intended as harassment. Yesterday, as NBC News reported, the prosecutors weighed in with a court filing of their own.

Attorneys for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance argued Monday that President Donald Trump should be forced to comply with a subpoena for his tax documents -- and suggested that his company was under investigation for alleged insurance and bank fraud. The disclosure in a federal court filing adds a new dimension to the battle over the president's financial records.

This is important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the peek behind the curtain as to what the district attorney's office is pursuing and why.

The general assumption has been that Vance's office subpoenaed Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, as part of a probe into the president's hush-money scandal, which sent Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to prison. But yesterday's court filing suggests prosecutors' interest in the Trump Organization is broader than just this one controversy.

Indeed, the district attorney's office, in defense of its subpoena, explicitly referenced in its court filing yesterday the possibility of "extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization."

Or put another way, according to these prosecutors in New York, the president's accounting firm needs to turn over the president's financial records because the president's business may have committed several crimes.

Like what? There's no shortage of possibilities, though Jon Chait noted, "A New York Times investigation two years ago found a trail of phony records used in what the newspaper described as clear fraud. Trump has reportedly collected phony hurricane damages. ProPublica has uncovered massive discrepancies between the figures Trump has given to lenders and the government, portraying himself as rich to the banks and poor to the government, thus defrauding either one or both."

It's worth emphasizing that even if prosecutors in this case succeed in acquiring Trump's financial records, it doesn't mean we would get to see the documents the president has fought so hard to keep secret. Rather, the materials would be shared with a New York grand jury -- not with the public.

That said, as the New York Times reported overnight, "The records might only emerge later if criminal charges are brought and the records are introduced in a trial."