Trump’s time in the White House could ultimately benefit New York prosecutors
Former President Donald Trump’s time in the White House helped protect him from investigation and some lawsuits, but this could expose him to greater legal danger from New York prosecutors investigating his finances.
Manhattan District Attorneys have discussed the application of a section of New York City Criminal Procedure Law that they successfully used in their sexual assault case against the disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein to indict him of past conduct.
The section allows the limitation period to be extended if a defendant has been out of the country “continuously”.
He has spent a few days in New York since he took office in January 2017, which means prosecutors can effectively put that time on the clock and investigate previous conduct.
While this would likely only apply to the former president, legal experts tell CNN that prosecutors are also benefiting from an order issued by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last March that paused the statute of limitations to cover the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the New York court system.
The executive order could give prosecutors another month of conduct by the Trump organization and its staff for investigation.
A Trump attorney declined to comment. A prosecutor’s spokesman declined to comment.
The New York Prosecutor’s Office is investigating Trump and the Trump Organization’s finances, investigating whether lenders, insurance companies and tax authorities have been misled about the values assigned to certain assets.
Additionally, they are investigating whether other potential crimes such as tax fraud have been committed as they relate to numerous deductions and hush money payments to silence Stormy Daniels’ allegations of an affair with Trump.
Trump has denied the matter. The Trump organization has claimed it didn’t do anything wrong.
Race against the clock
The clock of the investigation has been a major concern throughout the investigation, which began in 2018. Carey Dunne, general counsel in the prosecution, told a federal judge during their battle to obtain Trump’s tax returns that they “had ongoing concerns about the investigation’s potential loss of critical evidence and expiration of statute of limitations. “
Prosecutors received millions of pages of Trump’s tax returns and related documents late last month, and it will take some time to process them.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is not expected to run for re-election, and people familiar with the matter say he will likely decide by the end of the year whether a case will be charged or the investigation closed.
The out-of-town provision is one of several legal maneuvers authorities might consider when attempting to build a case and make charging decisions that would allow them to look past the traditional five-year statute of limitations for many New York crimes .
“In the proverbial woodshed there are numerous procedural instruments that prosecutors could use to enforce the law. Depending on the circumstances, it doesn’t mean you can get a passport just because your conduct appears to be outside of an otherwise strict five-year statute of limitations, “said Jeremy Saland, former assistant district attorney in Manhattan.
The provision in question states: “In calculating the time limit for initiating a criminal act, the following time limits are not taken into account: (a) Any period after the commission of the offense in which (i) the accused has been continuously outside the time limit . “
The law limits the extension to five years.
During Trump’s four years in Washington, he spent very little time at his New York home and instead chose to take breaks in Florida at Mar-a-Lago or his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. After leaving office, he moved to Florida and made his first visit to his home and office in New York this week.
When prosecutors invoke this section of the law, it means they could argue that the time Trump was away from New York would not be taken into account when calculating the statute of limitations.
For example, if prosecutors found evidence of wrongdoing in 2015, the typical law would expire in 2020. However, under this toll regime, the clock could stop for the periods Trump was away from New York during the five-year period, which effectively allows them to take past behavior into account.
How precaution was used at Weinstein
In their criminal case against Weinstein, the public prosecutor’s office relied on the extension of tolls outside the state. Prosecutors charged Weinstein with several crimes, including third-degree rape on an alleged assault in March 2013. Weinstein was charged in May 2018, two months after the five-year statute of limitations on the offense had expired.
Weinstein challenged the charges on the grounds that they were outside the statute of limitations and that, as a resident of New York State, he would not benefit from the extension.
Prosecutors used United States Customs and Border Control records to show that Weinstein was absent from New York for 193 days during that five-year period – more than the 68 days it took to record previous behavior.
The judge dismissed Weinstein’s argument and allowed the charges to stand. Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault and is serving a 23-year prison term.
“I’m not sure they need to make that effort on this case, but it’s another mechanism they might be able to use,” said Peter Katz, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan. “They will try to apply the law in full.”
Several legal experts tell CNN that prosecutors could extend the law by prosecuting conspiracy allegations, which would allow them to indict older conduct beyond the statute of limitations if they can prove it was part of an ongoing conspiracy.
Another law available is the state equivalent of an extortion fee known as corporate corruption. According to this theory, prosecutors could include senior behavior if they can demonstrate a long pattern of illegal behavior committed as part of a criminal enterprise.
Saland, the former prosecutor, added: “Prosecutors would be doing themselves a disservice by making a case more difficult than necessary. If he gives Trump a soap box to challenge an exception to the statute of limitations, he can create confusion. “
Instead, he says, if prosecutors oversimplify the case and focus on false filings, assuming they were filed, “the former president could very likely be the recipient of both a crime and a Scarlett letter because he was the population of the State of New York cheated on York. “