Prosecutors are busy with offshoots of Mueller’s work
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.
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.