Pros­e­cu­tors are busy with off­shoots of Mueller’s work

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY BEN PROTESS, WIL­LIAM K. RASHBAUM, BEN­JAMIN WEISER AND MAGGIE HABERMAN

Even as spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller sub­mit­ted his con­fi­den­tial re­port to the Jus­tice Depart­ment on Fri­day, fed­eral and state pros­e­cu­tors are pur­su­ing about a dozen other in­ves­ti­ga­tions that largely grew out of his work, all but en­sur­ing that a le­gal threat will con­tinue to loom over the Trump pres­i­dency.

Most of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions fo­cus on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump or his fam­ily busi­ness or a cadre of his advisers and as­so­ciates, ac­cord­ing to court records and in­ter­views with peo­ple briefed on the in­ves­ti­ga­tions. They are be­ing con­ducted by of­fi­cials from Los An­ge­les to Brook­lyn, with about half of them be­ing run by the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Man­hat­tan.

Un­like Mueller, whose man­date was largely fo­cused on any links be­tween the Trump cam­paign and the Rus­sian govern­ment’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan take an ex­pan­sive view of their ju­ris­dic­tion. That author­ity has en­abled them, along with FBI agents, to scru­ti­nize a broader or­bit around the pres­i­dent, in­clud­ing his fam­ily busi­ness.

Trump told The New York Times in 2017 that any ex­am­i­na­tion of his fam­ily’s fi­nances, be­yond any re­la­tion­ship to Rus­sia, would cross a red line, and last year he pri­vately asked for­mer act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Matthew Whi­taker if some­one he viewed as loyal could be put in charge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions at the Man­hat­tan of­fice, The Times re­ported last month.

Some of those fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions in the Man­hat­tan of­fice, known as the South­ern Dis­trict of New York, grew out of its case against Michael Co­hen, the pres­i­dent’s for­mer lawyer and fixer. The in­quiry into Co­hen was turned over to the Man­hat­tan fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors early last year af­ter Mueller’s of­fice spent months in­ves­ti­gat­ing him, court records un­sealed this week show.

By dint of its lo­ca­tion in Man­hat­tan, a few miles south of the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s of­fices on Fifth Av­enue, the South­ern Dis­trict was a nat­u­ral land­ing spot for the Co­hen case.

Since Co­hen pleaded guilty in Au­gust to help­ing ar­range hush money pay­ments to women who said they had af­fairs with Trump, the pros­e­cu­tors have fo­cused on what role the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion and its ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing its long­time chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, may have played in the scheme, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple briefed on the mat­ter.

Co­hen, who is to be­gin serv­ing a three-year prison sen­tence in May, has as­sisted the pros­e­cu­tors with that in­quiry as well as a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the pres­i­dent’s in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee, the peo­ple said.

The pros­e­cu­tors have also ex­am­ined in­for­ma­tion brought by Co­hen that he hopes will re­duce his sen­tence, the peo­ple said, in­clud­ing whether Trump’s lawyers con­sid­ered of­fer­ing him a pres­i­den­tial par­don to keep him quiet and whether the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion pos­si­bly in­flated in­sur­ance claims sev­eral years ago.

At this point, it is un­clear whether any­one will be charged with a crime. Some of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­volve al­le­ga­tions that may be too old to be pros­e­cuted. Yet taken to­gether, the in­ves­ti­ga­tions show that the pros­e­cu­to­rial cen­ter of grav­ity has shifted from Mueller’s of­fice in Washington to New York.

“The im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is that al­most ev­ery­thing Don­ald Trump did was in the South­ern Dis­trict of New York,” said John S. Martin Jr., a re­tired fed­eral judge who was U.S. at­tor­ney in the South­ern Dis­trict dur­ing the Carter and Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tions.

“He ran his busi­ness in the South­ern Dis­trict. He ran his cam­paign from the South­ern Dis­trict,” Martin said. “He came home to New York ev­ery night.”

In an interview that aired Fri­day morn­ing, Trump told Maria Bar­tiromo of Fox Busi­ness Net­work that his lawyers were per­plexed by re­ports that he faces mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

James M. Mar­golin, a spokesman for the South­ern Dis­trict, de­clined to com­ment, as did the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The pre­cise num­ber of fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions around the coun­try that have grown out of the spe­cial coun­sel’s work re­mains un­known be­cause such in­quiries are con­ducted in se­cret. But the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice farmed out strands of its in­quiry to at least three other U.S. at­tor­neys’ of­fices, in­clud­ing in Brook­lyn, the Dis­trict of Columbia and the East­ern Dis­trict of Vir­ginia.

Peo­ple briefed on the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions said the pros­e­cu­tors in Brook­lyn have raised ques­tions about do­na­tions to the Trump in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee, which was chaired by Thomas Bar­rack, a long­time friend of Trump. They have been ex­am­in­ing Bar­rack’s ties to the Mid­dle East, among other mat­ters, ac­cord­ing to the peo­ple briefed on the work.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in the Dis­trict of Columbia will han­dle the prose­cu­tion of Trump po­lit­i­cal ad­viser Roger Stone, who was charged as part of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. And the Jus­tice Depart­ment con­tin­ues to in­ves­ti­gate the busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal deal­ings of El­liott Broidy, a top fundraiser for Trump’s cam­paign and in­au­gu­ra­tion, who tried to use his ac­cess to the Trump team to boost his busi­nesses. Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Los An­ge­les have also taken part in the in­quiry and have raised ques­tions about the in­au­gu­ra­tion, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple briefed on the mat­ter.

Sep­a­rately, state author­i­ties in New York are pur­su­ing sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions fo­cused on the pres­i­dent, his as­so­ciates and his busi­ness. Those mat­ters in­clude a mort­gage fraud case against Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, Paul Manafort, as well as civil in­quiries into the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­sur­ance prac­tices, real es­tate deals, and whether the fam­ily’s char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion vi­o­lated tax laws.

As for the South­ern Dis­trict, it is known to move ag­gres­sively – more so than some other of­fices – to stake a claim to new in­ves­ti­ga­tions based on tips from co­op­er­at­ing wit­nesses and other sources. In this in­stance, it ap­pears to be lead­ing some of the most sen­si­tive spinoffs – ones with the po­ten­tial to di­rectly af­fect Trump’s busi­ness, his in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee and pos­si­bly him­self.

In the hush money in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the South­ern Dis­trict pros­e­cu­tors have al­ready im­pli­cated the pres­i­dent, claim­ing in a court fil­ing that Co­hen “acted in co­or­di­na­tion with and at the direc­tion of” Trump. While the pre­vail­ing view at the Jus­tice Depart­ment is that a sit­ting pres­i­dent can­not be in­dicted, the pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan could con­sider charg­ing him af­ter he leaves of­fice, par­tic­u­larly if he does not win re-elec­tion and is a pri­vate ci­ti­zen be­fore the le­gal dead­line to file charges ex­pires.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Trump in­au­gu­ral com­mit­tee partly grew out of a record­ing that FBI agents seized when they raided Co­hen’s home and of­fice. On the record­ing, Co­hen is heard dis­cussing po­ten­tial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties with one of the main con­trac­tors for the in­au­gu­ra­tion. The South­ern Dis­trict is in­ves­ti­gat­ing, among other things, whether the com­mit­tee made false fil­ings with the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion and re­ceived il­le­gal do­na­tions from for­eign na­tion­als, a sub­poena from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion shows.

In ad­di­tion, the South­ern Dis­trict took on two in­ves­ti­ga­tions stem­ming from the cases against Manafort, who was pros­e­cuted by Mueller’s of­fice and was re­cently sen­tenced to more than seven years in prison for a litany of crimes.

In one of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the pros­e­cu­tors are weigh­ing charges against the of­fi­cer of a bank that Manafort has ac­knowl­edged de­fraud­ing, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple briefed on the mat­ter.

In the other, Mueller’s team re­ferred in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­volv­ing three firms that worked with Manafort – the lob­by­ing firms Mer­cury Pub­lic Af­fairs and Podesta Group, and the law firm Skad­den, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom – to the South­ern Dis­trict for po­ten­tial prose­cu­tion un­der the For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act.

Since then, Skad­den reached a set­tle­ment with the Jus­tice Depart­ment. But pros­e­cu­tors in Washington are weigh­ing charges against Skad­den’s lead lawyer on the firm’s work in con­sul­ta­tion with Manafort in 2012 on be­half of the Ukrainian govern­ment, while the South­ern Dis­trict has re­tained con­trol of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Mer­cury and the Podesta Group, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

JEENAH MOON NYT

The U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice for New York’s South­ern Dis­trict is led by Ge­of­frey S. Berman; he was ap­pointed in Jan­uary 2018 by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

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