After three years of investigations by top New York prosecutors against Donald Trump, many in his circle, and the expanding Trump Organization business empire, it is perhaps no surprise to see the charges finally brought in a courtroom of New York.
On the surface, the indictment against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg released Thursday may seem relatively minor and limited in scope given the company’s multi-million dollar size and the high profile of the Trump family.
However, experts believe this could be just the beginning. Here are the answers to some key questions of the day in court.
What is being charged?
Essentially, the Trump Organization and Weisselberg have been charged with tax evasion primarily for failing to pay taxes on benefits granted to him and others. Weisselberg, prosecutors said, benefited to the tune of $ 1.7 million after payments were made that covered his family members’ tuition and apartment expenses, as well as other things.
What is the strategy of the prosecutors?
It is a common tactic among prosecutors to start small and work your way up to bigger fish. That is likely what is happening here. Prosecutors will hope to bring these charges to Weisselberg’s doorstep to gain their cooperation in other investigations and to show others in Trump’s empire what they, too, could face if they don’t cooperate.
As New York Attorney General Letitia James put it: “This investigation will continue and we will follow the facts and the law wherever they take us.”
What does this mean for Trump?
The former president has long attacked the numerous investigations against him, his company and his allies as part of a “witch hunt” of his political enemies. He and his supporters will point to the relatively small scale of the charges made Thursday as evidence to back up their claims. That’s deeply misleading, but it probably rings your base.
Weisselberg will undoubtedly feel pressure to cooperate with prosecutors, but his lawyers have signaled his intention to mount an aggressive defense, something that Trump and Trump Organization executives will no doubt wholeheartedly support. Meanwhile, other Trump-related cases will continue to unfold.
What does this mean politically?
This is dangerous terrain for America. Traditionally, the justice system must be allowed to develop, no matter who the target of the investigation is. But in office and in his life after the presidency, Trump has criticized those who investigate him. Given his firm grip on the Republican party, his millions of supporters, and the extremist rhetoric Trump uses, this is a troubling moment for America’s system of government – pitting a former president against the judicial system.
In that sense, the profound and troubling importance of what appears to be a small set of tax burdens cannot be overestimated.