The end of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation clears the path for states to file charges against Donald Trump and those in his inner circle, one former FBI agent argued in a Washington Post column Friday.
Asha Rangappa wrote in her op-ed that it's unlikely Mueller himself is going to charge the president, Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner — but "the end of the federal investigation into the 2016 campaign clears the path for criminal charges in multiple states."
Rangappa noted that early in Mueller's investigation, reports emerged that he was sharing information with New York's then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman about Paul Manafort's money laundering — a move that suggested the state was looking at potential violations of both state and federal law.
The former FBI agent noted that the current New York AG has more recently sued the Trump Foundation over its "shocking pattern of illegality" regarding charitable funds and that the New Jersey AG subpoenaed the Trump inaugural committee for its financial records.
"Although these are both civil actions, they could reveal violations of state criminal laws concerning tax and financial fraud by members of the Trump campaign or Trump Organization," Rangappa wrote.
Rangappa noted that the "dual sovereignty" legal precedent, established in a 1959 Supreme Court case, posits that states and federal governments "represent and vindicate different interests, even when they charge the same crime — and as a result, dual state and federal prosecutions do not violate the U.S. Constitution’s double-jeopardy clause, which otherwise protects people from being prosecuted twice for the same offense."
States like New York responded to dual sovereignty, she added, by barring prosecutors from bringing the charges against someone if they were convicted of the same crime on the federal level.
Nevertheless, "once Mueller wraps up his investigation, the path will be clear for bringing state charges against people who have violated state law."
"This could be bad news for Trump," Rangappa wrote. "His pardon power cannot reach state crimes, so there is no get-out-of-jail-free card for people charged under state law. Because states do not answer to the Justice Department, no U.S. Attorney General, no matter how loyal, can put a stop to their investigations."
Most importantly, she added, is the fact that states are not restricted the same way as the federal government is by the DOJ's policy of not indicting a sitting president.
"There is nothing under current law that would prevent a state from charging Trump himself with a crime," Rangappa wrote. "Such an action would be unprecedented and inevitably result in a major constitutional showdown, but even the best-case scenario (for Trump) would be that prosecution gets deferred until he leaves office, which would still leave him cornered from a legal perspective and raise the likelihood of impeachment."