That attorney general’s investigation has already produced a civil suit, filed in June, alleging that Trump and three of his children ran a charity engaged in “persistently illegal conduct.”
But, in the midst of contentious Democratic primaries in New York, Cuomo had faced political pressure to do more and seek a criminal investigation into the case.
On Thursday, Cuomo announced that such an investigation had, in fact, already begun. He said the tax agency’s probe could result in a recommendation that local or state prosecutors seek criminal charges.
“For the Trump Foundation, the law is the law. It doesn’t matter who you are, the law is the law. So Tax and Finance is doing an investigation,” Cuomo told reporters. “If they believe it should be referred [for prosecution], they will refer.”
“It’s an ongoing investigation, so we don’t comment on ongoing investigations,” Cuomo said.
A spokesman for the Department of Taxation and Finance declined to comment.
Trump had already dismissed the attorney general’s lawsuit as a politically motivated attack from New York’s Democratic leaders. “This is politics at its very worst,” a Trump Organization spokeswoman said.
On Thursday, details about the tax agency’s probe were still scarce.
An aide to Cuomo said that the agency’s investigation had begun at least a month ago, and it was not clear when it would conclude. The Trump Foundation is a tax-exempt charity based in New York state.
The New York attorney general’s probe began back in 2016, after The Washington Post showed that Trump had used his charity’s money to pay off his businesses’ legal settlements, to make a prohibited political gift and to buy a $10,000 portrait that hung on the wall of his golf resort.
The attorney general’s suit asked a judge to ban the four Trump family members from charity work temporarily, to dissolve the charity and impose millions of dollars in repayments and penalties. Attorney General Barbara Underwood — a nonpolitical appointee who took office after Eric Schneiderman (D) resigned — did not seek criminal charges in the case. She said New York law did not give her the authority.
Instead, Underwood suggested that the federal IRS and the Justice Department might bring a criminal case.
Underwood is not running for election in the fall. One of the Democrats seeking to replace her — Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor — had called for the state itself to seek criminal charges in New York. Teachout said she believed a criminal case might allow the state to make Trump’s own tax returns public. Trump declined to release his tax returns as a candidate or as president, breaking with decades of precedent.