Even as speculation mounts that special counsel Robert Mueller might be winding down his investigation, a parallel threat to President Donald Trump only seems to be growing within his own Justice Department: the Southern District of New York.
Manhattan-based federal prosecutors can challenge Trump in ways Mueller can’t. They have jurisdiction over the president’s political operation and businesses — subjects that aren’t protected by executive privilege, a tool Trump is considering invoking to block portions of Mueller’s report. From a PR perspective, Trump has been unable to run the same playbook on SDNY that he’s used to erode conservatives’ faith in Mueller, the former George W. Bush-appointed FBI director. Legal circles are also buzzing over whether SDNY might buck DOJ guidance and seek to indict a sitting president.
The threat was highlighted when SDNY prosecutors ordered officials from Trump’s inaugural committee to hand over donor and financial records. It was the latest aggressive move from an office that has launched investigations into the president’s company, former lawyer and campaign finance practices. New York prosecutors have even implicated Trump in a crime.
Add it all up and the result is a spate of hard-to-stymie, legally perilous probes that appears on track to drag on well into Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. SDNY stands poised to carry on Mueller’s efforts whenever the special counsel’s office closes shop, and it’s likely to draw even more attention if freshly confirmed Attorney General William Barr — who now oversees the Russia probe as DOJ head — clamps down on the public release of Mueller’s findings.