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A devastating day for Donald Trump: ‘Greed and cheating’ and expanding criminal probes target former president

The Independent logo The Independent 12/6/2022 Alex Woodward
FILE PHOTO: Pre-election rally held in support of Republican candidates in Dayton © REUTERS FILE PHOTO: Pre-election rally held in support of Republican candidates in Dayton

Donald Trump has spent decades trying to avoid criminal attachments, accusing his political enemies of launching spurious investigations despite a growing list of credible accusations of wrongdoing.

Less than three weeks after he formally declared his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, a launch fuelled by grievances and his failure to overturn the election he lost just two years ago, and largely seen as an attempt to shield himself from looming criminal investigations, his eponymous family business was branded as a felon.

On 6 December, a jury in his hometown of New York City found the Trump Organization guilty of all 17 counts against it, capping a years-long tax avoidance scheme bolstered by “culture of fraud and deception”, according to prosecutors.

Hours earlier, the chair of the House select committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol, inflamed by Mr Trump’s election lies, revealed that the panel is prepared to make criminal referrals to the US Department of Justice.

The House select committee’s mandate is expiring, and an incoming Republican-controlled House is likely to disband and undermine the panel’s findings and damning witness testimony. But expanding criminal probes and revelations from federal investigations – and now multiple convictions – shadow a recently launched presidential campaign now submerged in far-right autocracy and white nationalism.

Days after announcing his presidential bid, Mr Trump dined with a white supremacist and virulent antisemite at his Mar-a-Lago property. He has refused to condemn either of them. Over the weekend, he wrote an explicitly antidemocratic statement endorsing the “termination” of the US Constitution over his bogus claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him. Two days later he claimed he denied saying exactly that.

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The Justice Department’s recently appointed special counsel has subpoenaed election officials in several states central to the former president’s plot to subvert the outcome of the 2020 election.

It’s easy fodder for 2024 hopefuls preparing to challenge him, but recent convictions also could bolster Mr Bragg’s broader criminal investigation into the former president’s business practises.

On Tuesday, a jury found that two companies under the umbrella of Mr Trump’s business empire – the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation – pursued a 13-year-long criminal plot to award executives with lavish perks and compensation while intentionally concealing such benefits to authorities to avoid paying taxes on them, according to prosecutors.

“The former president’s companies now stand convicted of crimes. That is consequential,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said during a news conference after the verdict. “It underscores that in Manhattan we have one standard of justice for all.”

In a separate statement, he said the case was about “greed and cheating”.

A resulting fine is likely to be less than $2m, but could impact the company’s future business dealings.

The verdict will also likely give some leverage to a blockbuster lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has accused the former president and his business empire of “grossly” inflating the value of his net worth by billions of dollars in an effort to fraudulently gain tax benefits and other benefits from insurers and financial institutions.

Her lawsuit seeks to recover $250m in lost revenue and penalties, as well as a judge’s order that would permanently bar the Trumps from holding any offices with businesses in the state.

A New York judge overseeing that case has also blocked Mr Trump and his company from transferring assets without first notifying the court and the attorney general’s office. An independent monitor also is overseeing compliance with the order.

“We can have no tolerance for individuals or organizations that violate our laws to line their pockets,” Ms James said in a statement following the verdict in the criminal tax fraud trial.

“This verdict sends a clear message that no one, and no organization, is above our laws,” she added.

A statement from the Trump Organization laid the blame on Weisselberg, who the company said “testified under oath that he ‘betrayed’ the trust the company had placed in him”.

“The notion that a company could be held responsible for an employee’s actions, to benefit themselves, on their own personal tax returns is simply preposterous,” the statement added.

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