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New York state may soon launch probe into Trump business, finances

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A slew of New York Democrats are preparing to take office early next month — and investigating President Donald Trump is high on the list of priorities for some state officials.

This week, the Trump Organization’s former chief counsel and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to federal tax fraud, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations charges in August. But incoming Attorney General Letitia James James wants to supplement the inquires of federal prosecutors with increased state action as well.

In an interview with NBC News published Wednesday, James said she plans to ramp up state-level probes of matters involving the Trump Organization, Trump’s real estate company, and his charity, the Trump Foundation, both of which are headquartered in New York.

James first promised she will continue to pursue Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s ongoing civil suit against the Trump Foundation. The suit, first filed in June, alleges “persistent illegal conduct” including unlawful coordination with Trump’s 2016 campaign and multiple self-dealing transactions meant to enrich Trump’s business enterprises over the course of more than a decade, seeking $2.8 million in damages and the dissolving of the Foundation.

Read more:Judge rejects claim that Trump can’t be sued while in office, allows lawsuit against Trump Foundation to move forward

The New York Attorney General’s office is currently collaborating with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Department of Taxation and Finance to probe whether there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges against the foundation, serving Cohen with a subpoena in August.

James said she also plans to probe areas with criminal implications, including Trump’s reported tax dodging and pursuit of significant tax breaks as a real estate developer, the June 2016 meeting between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials in hosted in Trump Tower, and whether Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the constitution, currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and DC.

“We want to investigate anyone in his orbit who has, in fact, violated the law,” James said, adding that she also plans to push legislation to reform New York’s double jeopardy laws so that her office can prosecute anyone pardoned for federal crimes under New York laws.

Experts say James’ broad criminal inquires of a sitting president are verging into legally untested territory, and could have significant consequences for future presidents.

While current Department of Justice guidelines advise federal prosecutors against indicting a sitting president, former Assistant White House Counsel to Barack Obama Andy Wright told INSIDER in a Wednesday interview that it remains an “unresolved question” as to whether a president can be indicted for state crimes.

“It would not be a good thing for the democracy to have open season for states to be indicting presidents,” Wright added. “That said, it would be hard as a judge to say that New York is not allowed to vindicate their interests in their own criminal law for things that Trump allegedly did before he was in office.”

Some scholars worried that James’ broad intent to “use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well” signaled a politically motivated abuse of power as opposed to a legitimate criminal inquiry.

Read more:Trump reportedly fears the prospect of impeachment, but experts aren’t convinced his legal troubles have reached a ‘tipping point’ yet

“People may think about those other ramifications,” Wright said. “But I certainly think New York is well justified to investigate allegations of financial impropriety. There’s a lot of smoke there with regards to potential misuse of the charitable entity, the Trump Foundation.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are also slated to control both the State Assembly and State Senate, and could also use their own oversight and investigatory powers to probe Trump’s finances and business deals.

Newly elected State Sen. James Skoufis, the incoming chair of the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, told INSIDER in a Thursday email that while it was “premature” for him to weigh on whether his committee would probe matters related to the Trump Organization or Trump Foundation, he guaranteed the committee will be “taking on a far more robust investigatory role in the 2019-2020 session.”

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