Lawmakers passed a law nearly 50 years ago intended to catch the godfathers and bosses who ran organized crime syndicates, and that's the sort of operation Michael Cohen described in his public congressional testimony.
The president's former attorney told lawmakers Trump and his family business had engaged in crimes that could be considered bank fraud, charity fraud and tax fraud, as well as possible insurance fraud, obstruction of justice and suborning perjury, reported Garrett Graff for the New York Times.
Graff, the author of “The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller’s F.B.I. and the War on Global Terror,” said prosecutors could target the closely held Trump Organization in a number of overlapping criminal conspiracies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
That law was passed in 1970, after mobster Joseph Valachi exposed the workings of the Cosa Nostra seven years earlier before Congress, and RICO laid certain crimes that prosecutors could use to build cases against corrupt organizations and target anyone involved in the conspiracies.
"It took prosecutors a while to figure out how to use RICO effectively," Graff wrote, "but by the mid-1980s, federal investigators in the Southern District of New York were hitting their stride under none other than the crusading United States attorney Rudy Giuliani, who as the head of the Southern District brought charges in 1985 against the heads of the city’s five dominant Mafia families."
The SDNY and FBI have since become adept at building RICO cases, and Graff said they pose a far greater threat to Trump and his family business than special counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation is limited in scope under Department of Justice regulations.
Prosecutors could sidestep the question of indicting a sitting president by instead going after the Trump Organization and perhaps even Trump's children, while leaving the president as an unindicted co-conspirator.
That would allow prosecutors to publicize the president's alleged crimes, which could lead to impeachment, and allow authorities to seize the Trump Organization's assets and cut off its income.
"The irony will be that if federal prosecutors decide to move against President Trump’s empire and family together," Graff wrote, "he’ll have one man’s model to thank: his own TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who perfected the template to tackle precisely that type of criminal enterprise."