The legal threats to Donald Trump and his business empire have escalated after the New York attorney-general indicated that a long-running investigation of those entities was leading to possible criminal — and not just civil — misconduct.
The investigation, being led by Letitia James, the state’s attorney-general, is part of a two-pronged legal pursuit of Trump and his business. The other is being carried out by the office of Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, which more commonly focuses on criminal as opposed to civil matters.
A spokesperson for James said: “We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature. We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity along with the Manhattan DA.”
The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The former president has repeatedly dismissed the investigations as “witch-hunts” carried out by Democratic foes.
A focus of the probes, according to people briefed on the matter, is whether the company committed fraud by inflating the value of certain properties to secure bank loans while minimising them to reduce its taxes.
The investigations grew out of reports in 2018 that Michael Cohen, the president’s one-time personal lawyer, had arranged “hush” money payments for women who claimed to have had extramarital affairs with Trump. Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to several federal charges, told Congress he was later reimbursed with funds from the Trump Organization that were recorded as legal fees.
A person briefed on James’s probe said the focus on criminal matters did not rule out the possibility that it could still result in civil charges.
Both offices have recently received assistance from the former daughter-in-law of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s long-time chief financial officer.
It is not unusual for the attorney-general’s office to notify a party when a civil matter has been referred for criminal investigation, said Michael Bachner, a New York defence lawyer.
Bachner said it was unclear whether James and Vance were pursuing the same criminal charge or separate ones.