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New York attorney general opens criminal investigation into Trump Organization

State joins Manhattan district attorney in launching ‘active’ inquiry into former president’s company
Donald Trump now faces three separate criminal investigations.

Donald Trump is facing growing legal danger after the attorney general’s office in New York said it had opened a criminal investigation into his business activities, and those of Trump family members.

The attorney general, Letitia James, had been conducting a civil inquiry into the Trump Organization. On Tuesday night her office said it was joining a sweeping criminal investigation being conducted in parallel by Manhattan’s district attorney, Cyrus Vance.

The move – communicated in a recent letter from James to the Trump Organization – significantly raises the stakes for the former Republican president, who now faces three separate criminal investigations.

“We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation … is no longer purely civil in nature,” James’s office said. “We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA. We have no additional comment at this time.”

Trump is accused of falsely manipulating the value of Trump Organization properties in order to secure bank loans and lucrative tax breaks.

The Trump Organization has yet to comment. But it has previously dismissed the investigations as politically motivated witch-hunts and pointed out that James and Vance are both Democrats.

Vance has been sifting through Trump’s pre-presidency business dealings for more than two years. His office has said in court filings it is investigating “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct” at the Trump Organization, including tax and insurance fraud and falsification of business records.

According to the New York Times, Vance has been actively seeking to co-opt Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg’s bank statements had been subpoenaed with records from the private school in Manhattan attended by his grandchildren, the paper said.

Vance’s investigation began after it emerged that Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid hush money to silence two women in the months before the 2016 US presidential election. Both said they had had affairs with Trump.

James opened her inquiry after Cohen told Congress that Trump’s financial statements were deliberately manipulated in order to save money on loans and to reduce his real estate tax bills.

Cohen, who once said he would take a bullet for Trump, pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign finance violations and other crimes. He is currently serving a three-year sentence under home confinement.

“As more documents are reviewed by the NYAG and NYDA, it appears that the troubles for Donald Trump just keep on coming. Soon enough, Donald and associates will be held responsible for their actions,” Cohen said late on Tuesday.

In recent months criminal investigations into Trump have stepped up. Citing two people familiar with Vance’s workings, Reuters reported that investigators had questioned Cohen as a witness. Vance’s office, meanwhile, won a supreme court battle to obtain Trump’s personal and financial records – millions of documents going back eight years.

Court records show that the New York attorney general’s and Manhattan district attorney’s investigations, while separate from one another, do overlap. At the centre of their inquiries is a Trump Organization property, Seven Springs, situated on a 212-acre estate north of Manhattan. Trump bought it in 1995.

Trump’s company has said the century-old, 4,500 sq metre (50,000 sq ft) mansion on the grounds was used as a Trump family retreat. His apparent ambition to build a championship golf course there was derailed by local opposition, and he shelved another plan to build luxury homes.

But the property did become a vehicle for a tax break, according to property records and filings. In 2015, Trump signed a conservation easement – an agreement not to develop the property – covering 158 acres.

The attorney general’s office said in a court filing that an appraiser hired by Trump before the conservation agreement set the property’s value at $56.5m and the easement’s value at $21.1m – an amount Trump claimed as an income tax deduction.

In February, prosecutors in Fulton county, Georgia, opened a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempts to influence the state’s 2020 election results, after he was recorded pressuring Georgia’s secretary of state to overturn the outcome of voting based on unfounded claims of tampering

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