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In a few short weeks, Donald Trump will no longer be president, but the serious and politically fraught investigations into him will continue well into 2021.
These investigations, unfortunately for the president and the country itself, don’t involve imaginary visits to Moscow hotel rooms. Instead, they’re aimed directly at Trump’s business dealings and they pose serious problems for the soon-to-be ex-president, and the country itself.
That’s the word I’m getting even from friends of the president who have been closely monitoring the legal scrutiny, particularly by Cy Vance Jr., the Manhattan DA. Vance’s investigation into Trump’s business activities is real and, these people tell me, dangerous for Trump because they take aim at stuff he has never publicly disclosed or fully explained when he entered the political arena, namely his taxes, and how he values properties in his real estate empire.
Maybe more troubling will be Americans’ reaction to a case against private citizen Trump following the lame Mueller probe.
We might have to relive the unrest of 2020 all over again.
How seriously is Vance looking at the president’s business dealings? For months the DA has been seeking information from entities that have done business with Trump, such as German financial institution Deutsche Bank, The New York Times has reported.
Then, two weeks ago, Lydia Moynihan and I reported on Fox Business that Vance and his office advisers are discussing the creation of a “special task force” to investigate Trump’s business dealings and how they were accounted for in tax documents, bank disclosures and for insurance purposes, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Such a task force would represent a significant escalation of the inquiry as it would call on a team of lawyers and staffers to focus on one thing only: Trump’s business dealings. Investigators would fully commence around the time Trump leaves office.
Apparently eager to be up and running as soon as possible, Vance isn’t even waiting until after the inauguration to put the probe team together. On Wednesday, just before New Year’s, The Washington Post reported that the DA has now hired “forensic accounting specialists to aid its criminal investigation of President Trump and his business operations.”
As I reported, it’s unclear exactly what Vance is looking at (his office declined to comment) aside from Trump’s dealings with Deutsche Bank (which says it’s cooperating with the probe), the tax treatment of his investments and possibly his disclosures tied to insurance and loans on his properties.
One clue could be found in the Congressional testimony of Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who stated that the president in his private real estate dealings would often inflate his holdings for insurance purposes and report that his holdings were less valuable for tax purposes. The result allowed him to pay fewer taxes while upping his insurance coverage.
Representatives for Trump maintain his business dealings were completely legal. Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations, was sentenced to three years in federal prison and fined $50,000.
Plus, cases involving tax laws and insurance are notoriously difficult to bring. If — and it’s still a big if — Vance did bring charges against Trump, the DA will face a phalanx of tax experts who will say Trump’s allegedly liberal use of tax and insurance accounting is commonplace in the real estate business, thus he had no intent to break the law, just play aggressively within its rules.
Then there’s the political fallout, which will be a nightmare. Vance is a three-term Democrat who faces re-election in 2021. If he runs, he will face several well-financed, more progressive challengers, and his prosecution of Trump could be tainted as a campaign stunt.
Meanwhile, many Trump supporters (remember, he won more than 70 million votes) will see this as another politically motivated witch hunt. My bet: Even many non-Trump supporters will be skeptical because they’re tired of political posturing in the name of justice.
Taxes and Georgia on our minds
It’s not every election season that small investors need to keep tabs on a couple of US Senate races in Georgia.
But Tuesday’s Peach State run-offs are high drama for the people with money in the markets because if the seats move leftward, it could lead to serious stock volatility and higher taxes aimed at the small investor.
And there’s a good chance they will: Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face significant challenges from Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.
If the GOP loses both seats, a 50-50 Senate turns blue because Kamala Harris is the tie-breaking vote. That would give President-elect Joe Biden the votes to raise taxes on upper earners, as well as capital gains taxes and the corporate tax rate.
Some financial advisers don’t see a doomsday scenario because Biden is a moderate. But with Bernie Sanders and AOC on his back, it’s going to be tough for Biden to renege on his progressive tax promises. That would lead to more volatility until markets sort out how much influence AOC and Bernie will have in the Biden administration.