Trump investigation enters crucial phase as prosecutor’s term nears end
NEW YORK — A long-running criminal investigation into Donald Trump and his family business is reaching a critical phase as Cyrus Vance Jr., the prosecutor overseeing the inquiry, enters his final weeks as Manhattan district attorney.
Vance’s prosecutors have issued new subpoenas for records about Trump’s hotels, golf clubs and office buildings. They recently interviewed a banker employed by Deutsche Bank, Trump’s top lender. And earlier this month, they told a top Trump executive who had been under scrutiny, Matthew Calamari, that they did not plan to indict him in the purported tax-evasion scheme that led to charges against Trump’s company and its chief financial officer.
The developments, described by people with knowledge of the matter, show that Manhattan prosecutors have shifted away from investigating those tax issues and returned to an original focus of their three-year investigation: Trump’s statements about the value of his assets.
In particular, the people said, prosecutors are zeroing in on whether Trump or his company inflated the value of some of his properties while trying to secure financing from potential lenders. If Vance’s office concludes that Trump intentionally submitted false values to potential lenders, prosecutors could argue that he engaged in a pattern of fraud.
Trump and his company have denied wrongdoing, calling the inquiry a politically motivated witch hunt by Vance, a Democrat. His prosecutors are working with the office of the New York state attorney general, Letitia James, also a Democrat, who is running for governor and has been a vocal critic of Trump.
The investigation is playing out as Trump continues to wield enormous influence over the Republican Party and flirts with another presidential run in 2024. It has yet to hamper his political standing and could even energize his base, although the inquiry could also be a costly distraction.
It is unclear whether any new charges will be brought, but if they are, it could be difficult to prove that Trump or his company defrauded their lenders. One challenge is that the lenders are sophisticated financial institutions that most likely conducted their own assessments of Trump’s property values without relying entirely on him.
Still, Vance’s prosecutors have issued a flurry of subpoenas in recent months.
At least one subpoena issued this summer to Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, demanded information about how the company valued various assets, according to the people, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
The company is resisting turning over some documents, a matter that is the subject of sealed litigation in Manhattan.
The Deutsche Bank employee, a banker in the division that works with Trump, also recently met with prosecutors in Vance’s office to answer their questions, the people said.
The bank has issued hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Trump over the years, including for his hotels in Chicago and Washington and his Doral golf resort in Florida.
Last year, during a relatively early phase in the investigation, prosecutors questioned Deutsche Bank employees about the lender’s general procedures for making loan decisions.
This past summer, prosecutors diverged from that focus on valuations when they indicted the Trump Organization and its long-serving chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, for unrelated tax crimes involving a scheme to pay off-the-books luxury perks to certain executives.
Vance’s office had also been weighing for months whether to indict Calamari, Trump’s former bodyguard who now is the organization’s chief operating officer, for failing to pay taxes on the same sort of perks.
But this month, after prosecutors pivoted back to the broader investigation, they told Calamari that they had “no present intention” to bring charges, his lawyer said.
“We believe that is the fair and just decision,” said the lawyer, Nicholas Gravante Jr., who had argued that Calamari was not involved in the company’s finances and relied on another Trump employee to prepare his taxes. “What the future holds in terms of the district attorney’s continuing investigation is anyone’s guess.”
Vance, who did not seek reelection for a fourth term this year, originally signaled that he wanted to decide whether to charge Trump before departing.
But he is running out of time.
He leaves office at the end of this year, and it might take prosecutors months to present a complex financial case such as this one to a grand jury should they decide charges are warranted.
And so, after more than three years of investigating Trump in fits and starts, Vance may have to hand over the culmination of the case to his successor, Alvin Bragg.