Candidate Letitia James at a debate of Attorney General candidates on Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at the New York City Bar Association...(Photo by David Handschuh/NYLJ) Letitia James, New York attorney general (Photo: David Handschuh/ALM)

With the announcement that no additional indictments are expected from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election by special counsel Robert Mueller III, there’s a renewed focus on how several inquiries launched in New York could play out.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and two state agencies have launched their own, separate inquiries into President Donald Trump, his inner circle, and his business dealings over the past year.

The New York state-based investigations into activities of President Donald Trump’s circle and business entities have yet to yield major results, except for the shuttering of the Trump’s charitable foundation, but they are in their infancy compared to the nearly two-year investigation by Mueller’s team. They’re also different in substance in that they focus on Trump’s activities outside of politics.

The latest inquiry by James’ office stemmed from testimony provided by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, who told a congressional committee that Trump may have mischaracterized the value of his assets in order to secure financing for a series of business dealings and an effort to buy the Buffalo Bills.

James confirmed to reporters in Albany earlier this month that her office had subpoenaed New Jersey-based Investors Bank and Deutsche Bank as part of the inquiry. The latter bank has been utilized often by the Trump Organization in order to obtain financing.

The scope of that inquiry is unclear, but James confirmed that, at the moment, it remains a civil investigation into Trump and his business dealings, rather than one that could result in criminal charges. James declined to provide details on the investigation but confirmed that it was launched after Cohen testified about the allegedly misleading value of Trump’s assets.

A spokeswoman for James’ office declined to comment on the status of that inquiry, but two weeks in the world of litigation would be unlikely to have produced any tangible results as of yet.

Another inquiry was launched by the state following Cohen’s testimony, this time by the state Department of Financial Services. The agency, which regulates the state’s banks and insurance companies, subpoenaed Trump’s insurance broker after Cohen testified that Trump also mischaracterized the value of his assets to insurance companies.

The insurance broker, Aon plc, confirmed the subpoena earlier this month, but nothing public has come of that investigation. A spokesman for DFS declined to comment on the status of that probe.

The two less-recent investigations launched by the state are being handled by the state Department of Taxation and Finance. One inquiry, which centers on Trump’s charitable foundation, is said to be criminal in nature, according to statements from Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year. The other is a civil investigation into allegations of fraud laid out in an article from The New York Times earlier this year.

The former investigation was launched last year, according to Cuomo, and is a separate probe from the state attorney general’s civil litigation against the Trump Foundation, which remains ongoing.

The attorney general’s office secured a victory in court when the Trump Foundation was ordered to dissolve immediately, but the lawsuit is far from over. James’ office is seeking $2.8 million in restitution and a temporary ban on Trump and his children serving at a New York-based nonprofit.

The lawsuit alleges that the Trump Foundation violated state law when it held a fundraiser for veterans groups in 2016 and allowed the proceeds to be disbursed during a handful of campaign rallies held by Trump later that year. The litigation also claims Trump used funds from the foundation to settle a series of self-dealing transactions.

Attorneys for the Trump Foundation have said neither Trump nor officials from the organization violated the law in any of those instances. Alan Futerfas, an attorney from Manhattan representing the Trump Foundation, has said, because the result of the veterans fundraiser didn’t financially benefit Trump, its operations were not unlawful. The other transactions, Futerfas has argued, were immediately reimbursed or were made by mistake.

Less than two months after that suit was launched by former New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood in June last year, Cuomo confirmed to reporters that the state had also undertaken a criminal inquiry into the foundation and the related actions of its officers. A senior official from his administration said at the time that a prosecution could be possible in the future related to that investigation.

“Gov. Cuomo believes there is one set of rules for everyone, no matter who you are or how much power you have,” the administration official said. “This matter will be investigated to the fullest possible extent, and if appropriate, referred for criminal prosecution.”

The second investigation by the state Tax Department was launched after a New York Times article alleged that Trump’s family, two decades ago, created a company to siphon money from his father to him and his siblings over time to avoid paying millions in taxes.

The alleged transfers have passed the point of the criminal statute of limitations, but civil claims could still be brought against the scheme. Officials from both the state and New York City tax agencies said in October that they were looking into the claims.

“The Tax Department is reviewing the allegations in the NYT article and is vigorously pursuing all appropriate avenues of investigation,” a spokesman for the state agency said at the time.

A spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the status of either of those investigations.

None of those state inquiries, importantly, has resulted in state criminal charges against Trump or anyone in his inner circle.

The New York Attorney General’s Office doesn’t have the authority to independently launch criminal investigations in most cases. Those inquiries, instead, have to be referred from a different state agency, which would then allow the attorney general’s office to launch a criminal investigation. That hasn’t happened as of yet—or at least hasn’t been made public.

James, for her part, has been outspoken on her resolve—if any wrongdoing is found through any inquiry conducted by the state—to bring charges against Trump, his family or his business associates. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office declined to comment on the status of any investigation before the office.


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