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Steve Bannon’s arrest has Trump quaking in his golf shoes

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David Cay Johnston
David Cay Johnston

Thursday’s arrest of Steve Bannon, the last manager of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, carries powerful messages that strike fear in The Donald. The arrest of Bannon and three others on fraud charges grows from a pair of 2019 DCReport articles by Grant Stern.

If federal prosecutors can flip Bannon, a 66-year-old man ill-suited by health or personality to prison life, it would be devastating for Trump. Although the president enjoys immunity from federal indictment, that privilege ends the moment his presidency does.

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Subpoenaed records are virtually certain to result in the indictment of Trump.

The Bannon arrest also helps explain why Trump tried, and failed, to install his own man in the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan: Bannon’s fraud case involving a $25 million charity scam to build a wall on the Mexican border.

That case is only one of the criminal cases threatening Trump personally that Southern District of New York prosecutors are pursuing. Any one of them could, as early as Jan. 21, result in Trump’s indictment.

Adding to Trump’s very bad morning, Federal District Court Judge Victor Marrero ruled Thursday that Trump’s business and personal tax records since 2011 must be turned over to a state grand jury in Manhattan. Trump has no immunity from state criminal prosecution. His federal pardon power would not protect him from state criminal prosecution.

Judge Marrero did everything short of calling the latest Trump effort to shield his tax and business records from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office “frivolous,” which lawyers know is the most damning characterization a judge can make about a legal argument.

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Those subpoenaed records are virtually certain to result in the indictment of Trump and others for years of New York State income tax crimes and other felonies including falsifying business records, insurance fraud, and bank fraud.

Trump Lawyers Appeal

Trump’s lawyers immediately appealed Judge Marrero’s ruling to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but given the Supreme Court ruling that Trump is not above the law, all that will do is delay the inevitable. If the court of appeals acts as swiftly as Judge Marrero and the Supreme Court declines to hear any more arguments, as seems highly likely, state prosecutors could have the accounting records weeks before the Nov. 3 vote, although perhaps not in time to ask the grand jury to vote a bill of indictment.

Mazars USA, the accounting and tax preparation firm for Trump, the Trump Organization and others around him, says it will turn over the records as soon as it gets a final court order.

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The Manhattan case is also a threat to Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who resigned as a senior judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals when judicial authorities put her under investigation to determine if she was a major league serial tax cheat.

By resigning, Judge Barry shut down that probe, a privilege judges extend to themselves but not others.

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Manhattan prosecutors already have records from Deutsche Bank, Trump’s sole lender, according to The New York Times. Deutsche Bank is notorious for laundering Russian oligarch money in New York, Germany, and the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, a major enclave of rich Russians.

Who Backed Trump Loans?

A key question about Trump and his decades of dealings with Russian criminals and Kremlin officials is whether his Deutsche Bank loans were matched by deposits or letters of credit from Russian interests. If so, that would explain both the bank’s willingness to make the loans and a major reason Trump praises Vladimir Putin at every turn and says he trusts him, but not American intelligence agencies.

What’s surely most scary for Trump is Bannon’s vulnerability to a plea deal in return for ratting out the boss. Accused criminals like Bannon often can get away with a slap on the wrist provided they turn over someone higher up. In Bannon’s case the big fish he can offer prosecutors is Trump.

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This is the same concern Trump had when Jeffrey Epstein was arrested on numerous charges of rape and other sex crimes against underage girls. Epstein died in federal custody under what officials say was a suicide, terminating that concern.

Epstein Proscurer’s Arrest

However, the arrest six weeks ago of Epstein’s alleged procurer, Ghislaine Maxwell, resurrected the fear that Trump may be indicted as a suspected child rapist.

Trump has repeatedly wished her well. That is a most curious position for any president to take on an accused pedophile madam. It also stands in sharp contrast to his wishing prison on many others, starting with his 2016 presidential opponent Hillary Clinton.

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Bannon’s arrest means that now Trump knows for certain that he failed to convert our Justice Department into a protection racket for his friends and a cudgel against his enemies. Trump’s appointment of Bill Barr as attorney general has resulted in unprecedented efforts to compromise our Justice Department for Trump’s personal benefit.

At DCReport we look upon Barr as Trump’s attorney specific, his successor to the notorious Roy Cohn, but with government powers.

If anything, Trump’s ham-handed efforts to corrupt Justice has strengthened the spines of career prosecutors who know there is no honor in serving in a do-as-you’re-told system. That is good for our Constitution’s mandate for equal justice under law and very bad news for Donald Trump.

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