The influence of money in politics lies largely in the fact that if you are a big donor to politicians, you can get immediate access to them. Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. is perhaps the best example of this process in action. It turns out that the Manhattan district attorney’s office is currently considering bringing criminal charges against the Trump organization in the wake of the information released in the recent convictions and plea deals of close associates of Donald Trump.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Michael D. Cohen’s hush money payment to an adult film actress, according to two officials with knowledge of the matter.
A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with President Trump, the officials said.
Both officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed.
But there is a big catch and that is that the boss of the prosecutors is Vance and he has a notorious history, being a poster child for how money works in politics. This ProPublica report from last year revealed what happened when the career prosecutors in his office felt they had enough evidence in 2012 to charge Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. with felonies.
In the spring of 2012, Donald Trump’s two eldest children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., found themselves in a precarious legal position. For two years, prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office had been building a criminal case against them for misleading prospective buyers of units in the Trump SoHo, a hotel and condo development that was failing to sell. Despite the best efforts of the siblings’ defense team, the case had not gone away. An indictment seemed like a real possibility. The evidence included emails from the Trumps making clear that they were aware they were using inflated figures about how well the condos were selling to lure buyers.
In a meeting with the defense team, Donald Trump, Sr., expressed frustration that the investigation had not been closed. Soon after, his longtime personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz entered the case.
Kasowitz, who by then had been the elder Donald Trump’s attorney for a decade, is primarily a civil litigator with little experience in criminal matters. But in 2012, Kasowitz donated $25,000 to the reelection campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., making Kasowitz one of Vance’s largest donors. Kasowitz decided to bypass the lower level prosecutors and went directly to Vance to ask that the investigation be dropped.
On May 16, 2012, Kasowitz visited Vance’s office at One Hogan Place in downtown Manhattan — a faded edifice made famous by the television show, “Law & Order.” Dan Alonso, the chief assistant district attorney, and Adam Kaufmann, the chief of the investigative division, were also at the meeting, but no one from the Major Economic Crimes Bureau attended. Kasowitz did not introduce any new arguments or facts during his session. He simply repeated the arguments that the other defense lawyers had been making for months.
Ultimately, Vance overruled his own prosecutors. Three months after the meeting, he told them to drop the case. Kasowitz subsequently boasted to colleagues about representing the Trump children, according to two people. He said that the case was “really dangerous,” one person said, and that it was “amazing I got them off.” (Kasowitz denied making such a statement.)
Vance defended his decision. “I did not at the time believe beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed,” he told us. “I had to make a call and I made the call, and I think I made the right call.”
But less than six months after the D.A.’s office dropped the case, Kasowitz made an even larger donation to Vance’s campaign, and helped raise more from others — eventually, a total of more than $50,000. After being asked about these donations as part of the reporting for this article — more than four years after the fact — Vance said he now plans to give back Kasowitz’s second contribution, too. “I don’t want the money to be a millstone around anybody’s neck, including the office’s,” he said.
Yeah, right. If this was an isolated case, Vance’s claim of having “made the right call” might be believed. But this is part of a pattern by Vance of favoring the wealthy and his big contributors. He also did not pursue earlier abuse charges against Harvey Weinstein. He also did not pursue charges against the big Wall Street banks in his district following the housing crash but instead threw the full weight of his office against a small bank named Abacus owned by Chinese Americans. That fascinating story is told in an excellent documentary that I reviewed here.
Vance is a symbol of everything that is wrong with money in US politics. Will he agree to another ‘visit’ with Kasowitz to ‘discuss’ the latest Trump case before he makes another ‘right call’? After the recent explosive allegations against Weinstein, Vance finally moved to charge him. The same pressure should be brought to bear on him now. The only way that Vance will move on this is if the spotlight is relentlessly focused on him, like what ProPublica is doing.