The Democrats’ Noose Tightening Around Trump’s Neck

Now that it appears increasingly unlikely that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will produce evidence to support the original allegations that it was created to investigate, namely that President Trump colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, or sought to obstruct justice by interfering with that investigation, his political enemies are broadening the scope of their accusations.

Over the next two years, three newly installed Democrat congressional committee chairmen, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and state officials will be examining Trump’s business and financial operations over the past decade in an effort to uncover questionable and possibly illegal dealings with unsavory partners, such as the Saudis and the Russians, in an effort to discredit Trump in the eyes of voters ahead of his bid for re-election in 2020. This is in addition to a barrage of civil suits seeking to force disclosure of private information on the business dealings of the Trump Organization, as well as the company’s tax accounting practices.

Once the newly elected Congress takes office in January, New York’s Jerrold Nadler will chair the House Judiciary Committee, California’s Adam Schiff will chair the House Intelligence Committee, and Maryland’s Elijah Cummings will chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. They have been boasting about their plans to hold congressional hearings that will put every aspect of the President Trump’s prior life and current administration under a microscope in an effort to find any evidence of possible crimes or other forms of wrongdoing they claim that Trump must have committed.

Mueller’s investigation has led to convictions and guilty pleas by Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and four other advisers, but none of the alleged crimes are directly related to the original Russian collusion or obstruction of justice allegations which Mueller was appointed to investigate.

MUELLER HAS LESS THAN HE HOPED FOR

As a result, Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz concludes, “Mueller has come up with far less than he hoped for.”

Mueller’s most spectacular witness has been Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who had changed his story several times in the hopes of receiving a more lenient sentence. Cohen now says that he was ordered by Trump to arrange hush money payments shortly before the 2016 election to silence two individuals who had damaging stories they threatened to tell, thereby involving Trump in a campaign finance violation. Cohen also now claims he lied in Congressional testimony to cover up ongoing negotiations he was having with Russians during the 2016 campaign over a proposed Trump construction project in Moscow.

But Mueller complained that Cohen had not been cooperating with him fully, and as a result, he did not support Cohen’s request to the sentencing judge to spare him from jail time for his other crimes.

Dershowitz agrees that Cohen’s story “doesn’t reveal anything new” about the hush money payoffs. “The only issue is whether or not the hush money, which was legal, was paid properly.” Even if the payment was not legal, “It does not seem to me that is an impeachable offense or an offense that would result in any kind of serious prosecution,” Dershowitz said.

He believes that Cohen has provided Mueller with “a very, very weak case. . . I suspect that may be the reason he has gotten very little in terms of sentencing consideration [from Mueller].”

There has also been criticism of the tactics that were used by Mueller’s prosecutors and the FBI to force former Trump advisor George Papadopoulos and former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to make guilty pleas in return for reduced sentences.

HOW THE FBI SET UP FLYNN

Former FBI Director James Comey bragged that he “probably wouldn’t have. . . gotten away” with setting up such an informal interview with a more “organized administration.” George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley said that it was “highly irregular” for Comey to have his assistant, Andrew McCabe, call Flynn and then “just send a couple of guys over” to the White House instead of following the usual procedure of calling then-White House Counsel Don McGahn first, who would have made sure that Flynn’s rights were protected. When McCabe called, he first put Flynn at ease by discussing other business, and then asked him if he could help the FBI clear up the Russia question, while assuring him that he did not need a lawyer present.

One of the two FBI investigators who interviewed Flynn was the now-notorious Peter Strzok. They did not tell Flynn that his answers were being compared to the written transcript they had of a wiretapped phone call he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, nor did they give him the customary warning they had given to other targets of the Russia investigation, that lying to the FBI was a federal offense. They wanted Flynn to be “relaxed” and “unguarded,” totally unaware that he was being set up by Comey and two other political enemies of the Trump administration.

Professor Turley compared the unfair procedures the FBI used against Flynn to a “canned hunt,” the legal equivalent to “putting him in a cage and shooting him.”

Because his answers did not match the transcript, the FBI charged Flynn with lying to them, even though the two agents who conducted the interview reported that they did not detect any signs that Flynn was deliberately trying to deceive them.

These facts are only known because Judge Emmet Sullivan was assigned to handle his case in December 2017, after Flynn had been pressured into entering his guilty plea. Judge Sullivan had previous experience with Mueller in 2008, when he was head of the FBI. Sullivan was presiding over the corruption trial of then-Senator Ted Stevens, and found that Mueller’s prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence from defense lawyers. Since then, Sullivan has begun every criminal trial by issuing an order to prosecutors to turn over all relevant evidence to defense lawyers. That is why the memo which McCabe wrote on the day of Flynn’s interview, as well as the “302” summary written by the FBI agents, are available.

In the end, Mueller gave Flynn a recommendation for a lenient sentence, involving no jail time, out of recognition of Flynn’s “particularly valuable” cooperation with prosecutors, meeting with them 19 times over the past year to discuss “several ongoing investigations,” including “any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the [Trump] campaign.” The redacted sentencing document Mueller submitted to Judge Sullivan did not contain further details, but it did say that Flynn was providing Mueller’s prosecutors with “long-term and firsthand insight.”

Flynn’s attorneys did complain to the judge about the tactics the FBI used to entrap him, but Mueller’s team responded that as a former army general and intelligence chief, with 33 years of experience, he shouldn’t have needed a reminder from the two FBI agents who interviewed him to tell them the truth.

But Dershowitz argues that Flynn “didn’t commit a crime even if he lied, because for a lie to be a crime it has to be material. And in my view, at least, it can’t be material if the FBI already knew the answer to the question.” In this case, the FBI definitely did know, because the two agents had a transcript of the phone call they were asking Flynn about.

Despite Flynn’s cooperation with the FBI, President Trump has not expressed any anger with his former national security adviser, because he was the victim of scare tactics used by the FBI. Trump also said that Mueller and his team were “embarrassed they got caught” entrapping Flynn.

TRUMP’S LAWYERS BELIEVE HE IS STILL SAFE

While the cascade of accusations and threatened investigations have preoccupied the media, Trump’s legal advisors say that the president is in no immediate legal jeopardy from the new information in the court documents which Mueller presented in recent weeks concerning Manafort, Cohen and Flynn. That is because they contain no clear evidence of wrongdoing on Trump’s part. Even if there were, established Justice Department policy is that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted for a federal crime while in office.

In an interview with conservative radio commentator Laura Ingraham, Dershowitz said, “I have long thought his greatest vulnerabilities could be his business dealings from before Trump became president, and I know they’re looking into those. But those, too, are not impeachable offenses. For it to be an impeachable offense, it has to be a high crime that occurred during the presidency or arguably on the road to the presidency when he was a candidate. I just don’t see that.”

Unless Mueller produces some surprise new evidence, Dershowitz predicts the probe will “most likely” conclude with a long report that builds a “mosaic” picture showing that Trump committed a “political sin, but not a federal crime.”

If, in fact, there was no crime, Dershowitz says that Mueller’s investigation will have proven to be, as he had feared from the outset, “a complete distortion of what the role of a special counsel is supposed to be.”

Before the midterm election, there was speculation that if House Democrats gained a majority, they would vote to force the Senate to hold an impeachment trial against Trump, even though there would be no chance for Trump’s opponents to muster the support of two-thirds of the Republican-dominated Senate required to remove a president from office.

NADLER AND TRUMP HAVE A LONG HISTORY

The move to force an impeachment trial has to be initiated by the House Judiciary Committee. Until December 2017, the top Democrat on that committee was John Conyers of Michigan. After he was forced to step down due to a scandal, Jerrold Nadler competed with other Democrats to replace Conyers as ranking member, which put him in line to take control of the committee once the Democrats regained a majority in the House. Nadler circulated a leaflet to his Democrat colleagues claiming that he would be “our strongest member to lead a potential impeachment.”

Nadler had a long history of conflict with Trump over his Manhattan building projects. During the 1980s, when Nadler was a New York State assemblyman, he fought to block a Trump project to build a 150-story building in his district. After he was elected to Congress in 1992, Nadler was instrumental in preventing Trump from obtaining federal mortgage guarantees for the project. In a book Trump published in 2000, he calls Nadler “one of the most egregious hacks in contemporary politics.”

However, since the midterm election, Nadler has been backing away from his implied promise to lead his committee into pressing an impeachment effort against Trump, while carefully leaving that option open. Nadler has said he would not want to begin impeachment proceedings unless he believed that it could ultimately convince an “appreciable fraction of the Trump voters” to support Trump’s impeachment.

“You don’t want to tear the country apart,” Nadler said. “You don’t want a situation where for the next 30 years half the country is saying, ‘We won the election; you stole it from us.’”

Nadler is already coming under pressure to initiate impeachment proceedings from the progressive wing of the Democrat party. Kevin Mack, a strategist for liberal billionaire Tom Steyer, who has been gathering signatures and running ads supporting Trump’s impeachment, said that if the Democrat-led committees “are successful doing their jobs, then they’ll bring forth more information about Trump’s wrongdoing, and the logical conclusion will be impeachment.” On the other hand, Mack said if Democrats don’t impeach Trump, they will be saying “that the rule of law is not the most important thing to you. Complaining about something is not doing something about it.”

NADLER WARNS OF TRUMP’S CHALLENGE TO DEMOCRACY

Nadler also promises that under his leadership, the Judiciary Committee will take a much more active role in monitoring the conduct of the Trump administration. “In the last two years, the Republicans in Congress, their basic idea has been: Let the Trump administration do what it wants, let there be no oversight,” Nadler said. As a result, he argued, “there are real challenges to the democratic norms that we haven’t seen the likes of since the Civil War. . . The result is that we have a real crisis now.”

Nadler also has been sending letters to the White House and the Justice Department demanding the “preservation of documents” and warning that “concealing, removing or destroying” any documents related to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ firing or Mueller’s investigation “may constitute a crime.” Nadler also intends to investigate whether the White House interfered with the FBI’s background check into Brett Kavanaugh before he was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, even though the wild allegations which were made against Kavanaugh in an effort to block his Senate confirmation were thoroughly discredited.

TRUMP EMERGED FROM THE MIDTERMS STRONGER

While Democrats celebrated their midterm success in winning 40 more seats, giving them a modest majority in the House, and seven additional governor races, the magnitude of their victory did not meet their initial expectations for a massive “blue wave” that would crush Republican candidates across the country and signal wholesale voter rejection of Trump’s leadership.

On the contrary; the results of the midterm election gave Trump a much firmer hold over the Republicans who will retain control of the new Senate. Trump’s most vocal Republican senatorial critics, such as Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Tennessee’s Bob Corker, will have retired, and most of those who will remain have reconciled themselves with Trump’s leadership. His support within the Republican voter base is as strong as ever, and his overall job approval ratings, which hover at about 43%, are comparable to those of Barack Obama at the same point in his presidency.

That is why Democrat party leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have warned their colleagues of a potential backlash by voters against any impeachment effort against Trump without more hard evidence of serious misconduct against him. The Republican majority in the House suffered just such a backlash in 1998 when it tried to impeach Bill Clinton over matters unrelated to his duties as president. The Republicans were unable gain the required two thirds majority in the Senate, and in the next midterm election voters punished the Republicans for overreaching, forcing then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to resign.

So far, the most serious allegation against Trump for which any evidence has been presented is the claim by Michael Cohen that Trump had ordered him to pay hush money to two people before the 2016 election. In order to get a lighter prison sentence recommendation from Mueller, after pleading guilty to unrelated crimes of tax fraud and bank fraud, Cohen told the judge that he had made the hush money payoffs as illegal corporate campaign contributions on Trump’s orders, “for the principal purpose of influencing the election,” thereby implicating Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator. In fact, Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano says that if Cohen’s claims are credible, they could provide sufficient grounds for Trump’s indictment.

HOW IMPORTANT WAS COHEN’S TESTIMONY?

The claim set off a frenzy of speculation in the anti-Trump media that Cohen’s testimony might doom Trump’s presidency. Nadler accused Trump of committing a “massive fraud against the American people” by paying to keep the embarrassing allegations secret before the election. Nadler said the payments were “impeachable offenses” because they enabled Trump to be elected president “fraudulently,” but he also admitted that the illegal payments might not be considered serious enough to warrant the removal of a president from office.

Congressman Schiff went even further. While sidestepping the impeachment question, Schiff suggested that Trump was likely to face a criminal indictment and trial on campaign finance law violations after his presidency ends, based upon Cohen’s testimony.

However, several conservative legal and political commentators were skeptical that campaign finance violations alone would result in Trump’s impeachment, or his indictment after his presidency is over, for a number of reasons.

Federal campaign finance laws are notoriously complicated and murky. In this case, if there was a violation, it was the failure by the Trump campaign to report the payoffs as a campaign contribution to the Federal Election Commission. The reporting responsibility falls on the officers of the Trump campaign, not the candidate himself.

The hush money was not paid for by campaign funds. Trump can also claim that as the candidate, he is not subject to the federal individual campaign contribution limit of $2,700.

Traditionally, such campaign finance violations are dealt with administratively by levying a fine on the campaign. That is what happened after the 2008 election, when the Obama campaign paid a $375,000 fine because of a failure to report $1.9 million in contributions received just before Election Day. Nobody at that time suggested impeaching Obama over the violation, or sending him to jail because of it, even though the 2008 case involved a lot more money than the $280,000 in 2016 hush money payments.

Prosecutors also revealed last week that they had struck a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, a publishing company who protected Trump by buying the rights to an embarrassing story about him, and then refusing to publish it. In court papers, AMI said it had done so in “cooperation, consultation, and concert with” one or more members of Trump’s campaign.

Trump can also claim he had the hush money paid to protect his personal reputation, in which case federal campaign finance regulations don’t apply. As Trump’s lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, explained last week, the payments were not illegal because they were made to protect Trump’s family. “If there’s another purpose, it’s not a campaign contribution.”

A TARNISHED WITNESS

Cohen’s credibility as a witness against the president has been badly tarnished. Last month, Cohen admitted that he had lied to a Congressional committee when he said that his negotiations with Russian partners in a proposed deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow had ended January, 2016. He admitted that the talks with the Russians had, in fact, continued through June. Cohen claimed he lied to Congress about the timing out of his sense of loyalty to Trump, and his desire to support Trump’s claim that he had no Russian business dealings during that part of the campaign. However, Cohen had been secretly taping his conversations with Trump, casting doubt on his claims of loyalty to his former client.

Last week, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for what a federal judge called a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct.” After he was sentenced, Cohen told ABC News that Trump knew that the hush money payments were illegal and that he ordered Cohen to make them anyway, because “he was very concerned about how this would affect the election.”

Trump vehemently denies telling Cohen to break the law by making the payments and insists that, as his lawyer, Cohen was responsible for avoiding legal violations. “I never directed him to do anything wrong,” Trump told Fox News. “Whatever he did, he did on his own.”

Cohen served as an executive in the Trump Organization starting in 2006, and since then was known as Trump’s favorite troubleshooter and legal “fixer.” Cohen was also involved independently in the New York City taxi and real estate industries. FBI agents, acting on behalf of federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and following a referral from Mueller, raided Cohen’s office and residence on April 9 of this year, looking for evidence related to his activities on behalf of Trump and other criminal matters.

While he served as Trump’s “fixer,” Democrats had little respect for Cohen, but since he turned against Trump, they have been eager to hear what he has to say, as long as it helps them to build their case against the president. Congressman Cummings told CNN over the weekend, “I’m hoping that Mr. Cohen will come before the Congress, where he can tell the American public exactly what he has been saying to Mueller and others, without interfering with the Mueller investigation.”

Trump has been criticizing his former lawyer for being “weak” and “not very smart” by turning against him in response to the pressure from Mueller and federal prosecutors. “Remember, Michael Cohen only became a ‘rat’ after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable and unheard of until the ‘Witch Hunt’ was illegally started,” Trump tweeted. “They broke into an attorney’s office!”

Trump’s current lawyer, Giuliani, called Cohen “pathetic” and a “serial liar” who has changed his story several times and told prosecutors what they wanted to hear in order to get a shortened sentenced. “Which is the truth?” Giuliani asked rhetorically, regarding the competing stories told by Trump and Cohen. “I think I know what the truth is.” He then added, “Unless you’re G-d, you’ll never know what the truth is.”

Giuliani was asked whether he would let Trump be interviewed by Mueller’s team after Trump and his lawyers had submitted written responses last month to questions about Russian collusion. Giuliani answered, “Over my dead body. But you know, I could be dead.” He then added sarcastically that the only questions left to ask Trump were about “several unpaid parking tickets that night, back in 1986, ‘87, that haven’t been explained.” Giuliani continued to deflect the question, but did say about the Mueller team that he was “disgusted with the tactics they have used in this case.”

When asked again on ABC News about the possibility that Trump would agree to answer more of Mueller’s questions, Giuliani replied that he was “not allowed” to say. He then explained: “The agreement we had [with Mueller] did contemplate that there’d be a period of time after the questions that we would have a discussion about whether there should be any further questions. So I’m not saying we are or we aren’t, but that’s in the agreement.”

DEMOCRATS NO LONGER RELYING ON MUELLER

Democrats have all but given up hope that Mueller’s final report will contain “smoking gun” evidence that Trump committed a crime serious enough to justify his impeachment. However, they believe that new information in Mueller’s report will, at the very least, help them make their case that President Trump is unworthy to be re-elected in 2020.

Most of the criminal indictments Mueller has filed have been against two groups of Russian nationals. One is a team of Russian military computer experts who attacked the systems of the Democrat National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, during the 2016 campaign. The emails they stole were published through Wikileaks, causing considerable political embarrassment to Mrs. Clinton and revealing a plot by senior DNC officials to help Clinton win the Democrat presidential nomination over Senator Bernie Sanders. A second group of Russian computer workers sought to influence American voters through phony social media postings. The relatively small social media campaign did manage to dupe a small number of voters with their fake political messages, but the campaign’s impact on the outcome of the election was minimal.

Mueller’s indictments of the Russians were very detailed, but since all of his targets are living safely in Russia, it is highly unlikely that any of them will ever have to stand trial in an American court.

Trump has repeatedly denied there was any “collusion” between his campaign associates and Russia and has attacked the Mueller investigation as a fishing expedition. As more information emerged about the dubious origins and methods of the probe, Trump has succeeded in convincing most Republicans that it failed to find any evidence of collusion because there was none. All it found was evidence of old crimes unrelated to the 2016 campaign, the online activities of the Russian computer hackers and social media teams, and “process crimes” which were precipitated by the overly aggressive nature of the investigation itself, such as the FBI’s ambush interview of Michael Flynn.

HOUSE DEMOCRATS TAKING OVER

Meanwhile, Congressmen Schiff, Nadler and Cummings intend to use their powers as House committee chairmen to explore every potential avenue of Trump misconduct, both before and after he entered the White House, in hopes of uncovering the convincing evidence that Mueller has been unable to find.

Congressmen Cummings has sent out letters on his House committee’s stationery to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, asking for the age, gender, country of origin and current location of every child who was separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy against illegal immigration. Another letter has been sent to Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, asking for the names of any senior White House officials who have used non-government email accounts to conduct official business.

Cummings has also sent letters to the White House chief of staff and the heads of many federal agencies, inquiring about the unauthorized use of government-owned aircraft for personal travel and privately-owned aircraft for official travel. Cummings is also asking the Trump Organization for a complete accounting of all the payments it has received from foreign governments or their agents since Trump took office.

While Democrats will soon be in charge of the House, they will not have the power to pass legislation into law without the cooperation of the Republicans who control the Senate and the Trump White House. But House Democrats will have the power to use their oversight authority to hold hearings and subpoena documents to step up their harassment of the Trump administration and expand their endless search for fresh evidence of its alleged corruption.

Cummings is hoping to duplicate the record of Democrat Congressman Henry Waxman, who chaired the same committee during the final two years of the George W. Bush administration. Cummings served as Waxman’s chief lieutenant during that period, and took a leading role in questioning hostile witness appearing before the committee. Democrats also had the equivalent of the Mueller probe at that time, in the form of a bogus special counsel investigation into the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. The politically motivated witch hunt sought evidence it never found that the Bush White House was at fault for the exposure of Plame’s covert mission.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald knew from the outset that Plame’s identity had been unintentionally leaked to the media by a politically neutral State Department official, Richard Armitage. Fitzgerald suppressed that information and continued the investigation, hoping to find an incriminating connection to then-Vice President Dick Cheney. In the end, Fitzgerald settled for Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby. Like Michael Flynn, he was set up as the political fall guy, trapped by investigators into committing perjury and then prosecuted mercilessly by Fitzgerald. Libby was convicted and sent to jail. (His sentence was eventually commuted by President Bush and he was pardoned by President Trump in April.)

This is the kind of investigation we can look forward to from Cummings, Nadler and Schiff over the next two years.

A NEW AGENDA FOR THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE

The contrast will be especially noticeable in the operation of the House Intelligence Committee. Over the past two years, it was chaired by California Republican Devin Nunes. He made a special effort to uncover the origins of the FBI probe against the Trump administration, mostly over Adam Schiff’s objections. When Nunes publicized a committee report which concluded that it had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Schiff publicly challenged that finding. At one point, Schiff went to House Speaker Paul Ryan to lodge a formal ethics complaint against Nunes and request his removal as committee chairman.

When Nunes launched an investigation into the “criminal activity and fraudulent behavior” of the FBI and the Justice Department, Schiff complained that Nunes “has been protecting the White House, protecting the president and furthering a political narrative which is completely at odds with the facts.”

Schiff says he intends to make Donald Trump Jr. one of the targets of his committee’s investigation, and will ask for his cell phone records to find out whom he talked to about the meeting he set up in June 2016 at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer. Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, had been told to expect the lawyer to offer the campaign useful information against Hillary Clinton, but instead, the lawyer wanted to talk about the lifting of US sanctions on Russia. The meeting broke up quickly with nothing accomplished, but Democrats have always considered it to be hard evidence that the alleged collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign was real.

Schiff also wants to investigate the business connections between the Russians and the Trump Organization. In particular, he wants to see the Trump Organizations records at Deutsche Bank. Schiff said that he was concerned about Deutsche Bank since they have a history of laundering Russian money, and was the one bank that was willing to do business with the Trump Organization.

Prior to his election as president, Trump held roughly $360 million in loans from the bank, while last year, Deutsche Bank was fined $630 million by New York and British law enforcement agency for its role in a Russian money-laundering scheme.

Meanwhile, Mueller and other federal prosecutors are investigating other charges that have been made against Trump, his friends and his business dealings.

INAUGURAL SPENDING

Trump’s inaugural committee, which collected nearly $107 million to finance the celebration of the start of Trump’s presidency, has drawn scrutiny from Mueller and New York federal prosecutors, after Mueller found evidence that the committee accepted illegal foreign donations. Because that was outside the scope of his investigation, Mueller referred the case to federal prosecutors in Washington DC. In late August, American political consultant W. Samuel Patten admitted that he channeled $50,000 from a Ukrainian politician to the inaugural committee through a straw donor. Patten pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign lobbyist and agreed to cooperate with the prosecutors.

More recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors based in New York are looking into allegations that some of the inaugural committee’s funds were misspent.

Congressman Schiff says that his panel also plans to investigate any “illicit foreign funding or involvement in the inauguration.”

However, Tom Barrack, a friend of Trump and chairman of the inaugural committee, insists that it is in full compliance “with all applicable laws and disclosure obligations” and has not received any records requests from prosecutors. A spokesman for the White House has told reporters that he could not comment on the allegations because the inaugural committee’s practices have “nothing to do with the president of the United States.”

EMOLUMENTS

Trump also faces a pair of civil lawsuits filed by congressional Democrats and two state attorney generals accusing him of violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause of Article 1 of the Constitution, which forbids elected officeholders from accepting gifts or profiting by doing business with foreign states or princes.

The lawsuit claims that the Constitution is being violated every time a Trump-owned property accepts any kind of payment from an agent of a foreign government, including, for example, the rental of a hotel room in the recently opened Trump International Hotel in Washington DC to a foreign diplomat. That is because, unlike other recent presidents-elect, Trump refused to sell his properties and put his assets into a blind trust before taking office. Instead, after consulting with his legal advisors, Trump turned over day-to-day control of his private company, the Trump Organization, to his sons, but retained his ownership stake in the business.

Trump’s advisors said this was the only option, because his worldwide holdings and business arrangements were too complex to be disposed of before he entered the White House. They also claimed that as long as Trump does not accept payment directly from an agent of a foreign power, he has not violated the Emoluments Clause.

Karl Racine, the attorney general of the District of Columbia, who filed one of the lawsuits against Trump with the attorney general of Maryland, called the emoluments clauses “our country’s first corruption law. What we want to do is be able to tie the flow of money from foreign and domestic sovereigns into Donald Trump’s pocketbook.”

The plaintiffs are seeking to have the courts bar Trump properties from doing business with agents of other governments. But the more immediate threat for Trump is the legal discovery process, which enables Trump’s Democrat enemies to look through his business records and accounts in their search for more excuses to accuse him of dishonesty and justify his removal from office.

UNDER FIRE IN NEW YORK STATE

The Trump Organization is based in New York State, and subject to state taxes and laws. The New York Times recently claimed that Trump’s company has been using questionable tax deductions for decades, prompting the state tax agency to launch a review of the company’s tax returns.

Earlier this year, New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed civil lawsuit against Trump and his three eldest children, accusing them of “persistently illegal conduct” in managing the family charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, by using its funds for their own self-interest, paying off legal settlements and arranging for illegal contributions to Trump’s presidential campaign.

On Tuesday, the attorney general’s office issued a statement that the foundation was shutting down as part of a deal with the Atttorney General.

Newly-elected New York State Attorney General Letitia James has also targeted the Trump empire, telling NBC that her office “will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well,” examining its tax practices.