As Soon as Trump Leaves Office, He Faces Greater Risk of Prosecution

By William K. Rashbaum and 


Nov. 13, 2020

President Trump has fought to prevent the Manhattan district attorney from obtaining his tax returns for more than a year.Credit...


President Trump lost more than an election last week. When he leaves the White House in January, he will also lose the constitutional protection from prosecution afforded to a sitting president.

After Jan. 20, Mr. Trump, who has refused to concede and is fighting to hold onto his office, will be more vulnerable than ever to a pending grand jury investigation by the Manhattan district attorney into the president’s family business and its practices, as well as his taxes.

The two-year inquiry, the only known active criminal investigation of Mr. Trump, has been stalled since last fall, when the president sued to block a subpoena for his tax returns and other records, a bitter dispute that for the second time is before the U.S. Supreme Court. A ruling is expected soon.

Mr. Trump has contended that the investigation by the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat, is a politically motivated fishing expedition. But if the Supreme Court rules that Mr. Vance is entitled to the records, and he uncovers possible crimes, Mr. Trump could face a reckoning with law enforcement — further inflaming political tensions and raising the startling specter of a criminal conviction, or even prison, for a former president.

“He’ll never have more protection from Vance than he has right now,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

“Vance has been the wild card here,” Professor Vladeck added. “And there is very little that even a new administration that wants to let bygones be bygones could do formally to stop him.”

A lawyer for the president, Jay Sekulow, declined to comment through a spokesman.

The district attorney’s investigation of a sitting president has taken on even greater significance because Mr. Trump’s past use of his presidential power — pardoning those close to him charged with federal crimes — suggests he will make liberal use of the pardon pen on behalf of associates, family members and possibly even himself, as he claimed he has the right to do.

But his pardon power does not extend to state crimes, like the possible violations under investigation by Mr. Vance’s office.

Mr. Vance’s inquiry could take on outsized importance if the incoming Biden administration, in seeking to unify the country and avoid the appearance of retaliation against Mr. Trump, shies away from new federal investigations.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-11-13 02:57:07 -0800