The attorney general's notification to the Trump Organization suggested a cooperative relationship has developed between investigators working for James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., whose office has been heading a criminal probe into the company and its officers since 2018. Both officials are Democrats. A person familiar with the matter, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the district attorney was not specifically mentioned in James's letter to Trump's company.
The attorney general's decision appears to have increased the legal risk that former president Donald Trump faces in New York, where the parallel investigations run by James and Vance had already delved more deeply into Trump's byzantine finances than any law enforcement authorities ever had.
Previously, the danger posed by James's investigation seemed to be merely financial — the kind of lawsuit Trump had faced from New York attorneys general before over his Trump University and his charity. Those cost him money but didn't threaten his liberty.
Now, however, James could also seek criminal penalties. And she appears to be cooperating with Vance's office, a move that could allow the two wide-ranging investigations to share data.
Trump and his representatives have repeatedly denied wrongdoing, saying the investigations are baseless and politically motivated.
Eric Trump, the former president’s son and a top official at the Trump Organization, declined to comment Tuesday. Instead, he texted The Washington Post a video montage of speeches made by James, largely from her 2018 campaign, in which James criticized Trump and promised to challenge his policies and investigate his business. In one clip, James described Trump as an “illegitimate president.” In another, from James’s campaign, she said, “We’re going to definitely sue him … He’s going to know my name personally.”
On Wednesday, the former president issued a lengthy statement decrying what he characterized as law enforcement’s unfair and abusive scrutiny of his business practices, while taking direct aim at James and her campaign sound bites captured on video.
“The Attorney General made each of these statements, not after having had an opportunity to actually look at the facts, but BEFORE she was even elected, BEFORE she had seen even a shred of evidence,” Trump’s statement says. “This is something that happens in failed third world countries, not the United States. If you can run for a prosecutor’s office pledging to take out your enemies, and be elected to that job by partisan voters who wish to enact political retribution, then we are no longer a free constitutional democracy.
“I have built a great company, employed thousands of people, and all I do is get unfairly attacked and abused by a corrupt political system.”
A spokesman for Vance’s office declined to comment. His team obtained Trump’s personal and business tax returns earlier this year and is in the process of an extensive forensic evaluation of those documents and other records obtained over the course of years. The known focus of both state probes applies to business transactions and conduct in the years before Trump became president.
Previously, the investigative team under James was pursuing a strictly civil investigation, which remains active and could still result in a lawsuit against the company and its executives.
The notice from James’s office was sent in late April to attorneys for the Trump Organization. It suggested that criminality could apply to actions by current and former company executives and employees if the investigation finds wrongdoing, the person familiar with the matter said.
It was not immediately clear why the two law enforcement agencies are now collaborating years into their previously separate investigations. Partnerships between the two New York law enforcement offices are rare.
Vance began looking into Trump and his company in 2018 after former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in connection with paying off an adult-film actress who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with Trump. James’s investigation began months later in early 2019.
Both probes have also focused on whether the Trump Organization — which was headed by the former president’s sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump during their father’s term in office — downplayed property values for tax benefits while inflating the value of its assets to obtain favorable bank loans.
James’s investigators have interviewed Eric Trump as well as Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg. The Post has previously reported that Vance’s office is hoping to secure Weisselberg’s cooperation in its investigation of his longtime boss.
The attorney general and district attorney have also teamed up in a state court-level investigation of Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to Trump who was indicted in federal court for allegedly defrauding contributors to a private fundraising campaign. Trump pardoned Bannon in the federal case in January, just before his departure from the White House.
Vance’s investigation into Trump and his company has heated up in recent months. His office obtained eight years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns along with related attachments — amounting to millions of pages of records. Forensic accountants and other analysts have been poring through the documents.
To obtain the tax returns, Vance prevailed after a number of legal challenges by Trump, who fought aggressively to shield the material. Trump, breaking with tradition among sitting presidents, had refused to release his tax records to the public as his predecessors did.
In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that Trump was not immune from state court prosecutions, paving the way for Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting firm, to comply with a subpoena seeking the tax records. After another losing challenge to the subpoena by Trump’s attorneys, which made its way back to the Supreme Court, the records were turned over.
Vance and James have also issued subpoenas for other records that are relevant to their examinations and have interviewed a number of witnesses.