The New York Attorney General’s unusual announcement that its investigation into the Trump Organization is now criminal could be part of a strategy to shake loose more cooperating witnesses, according to legal experts.
Late Tuesday night, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office first told CNN that its investigation was being conducted “in a criminal capacity.”
The spokesperson also said prosecutors were working with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which has so far been running its own separate investigation into former president Donald Trump’s and the Trump Organization‘s finances.
“We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature,” Fabien Levy, New York State Attorney General Letitia James’s press secretary, told Insider. “We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA.
The New York Attorney General’s and Manhattan District Attorney’s offices rarely make public comments about the progress of ongoing investigations — unless they’re highlighting some victory in court. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. commented on winning Supreme Court cases to subpoena Trump’s tax documents, and New York Attorney General Letitia James addressed the subpoena of Eric Trump. Both offices declined Insider’s requests for comment beyond Levy’s statement.
An attorney representing Jennifer Weisselberg, a cooperating witness in both investigations who was married to the son of the Trump Organization’s CFO, said he had already been in contact with attorneys from the criminal division of James’ office.
Duncan Levin told Insider the notion that James’ investigation was criminal in nature “did not come as news” to him, nor was it news that her attorneys were teaming up with Vance’s.
They’ve told us previously that they’re coordinating their efforts with the DA’s office,” he said. “We understand that they’re in touch with each other and that they’re coordinating their investigations together. We’ve known that for a while.”
Shaking loose more cooperating witnesses
Prosecutors in both offices are said to be examining whether the former president or his company committed financial crimes by keeping two sets of books: one that presented a rosy portrait of finances to secure favorable insurance and loan terms, and another that showed more dire figures in order to evade taxes.
Jeff Robbins, a former attorney for the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, oversaw money-laundering probes as a federal prosecutor. He said the statement from James’ office was likely designed to “shake loose” more people in Trump’s orbit who could cooperate.
Some potential witnesses or cooperators may have decided there was limited risk in ignoring prosecutors’ phone calls in a civil investigation; there’s a bigger risk if they don’t cooperate with a criminal investigation, he said.