New York authorities have jumped into the fray investigating the activities of Paul Manafort, a onetime campaign manager for President Donald Trump. To some it may seem like piling on, but the state’s efforts bear an important distinction from any parallel federal probes: Neither Trump nor the Justice Department nor the FBI has any control over them.
As Wall Street learned when then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer took it on more than a decade ago, a state prosecutor can rattle an entire industry even without federal cooperation.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” Spitzer said. “When the feds fail to enforce the law, creative state prosecutors can fill the void. It is a critical and necessary protection against lawlessness.”
As Democrats fumed over Trump’s firing of the head of the FBI, news surfaced that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. had begun preliminary investigations of Manafort’s real estate transactions. Representatives for Schneiderman and Vance declined to comment. Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, declined to comment, as did the White House.
Separately, federal authorities are investigating the Russia-related and campaign activities of several Trump associates, including Manafort, who resigned as campaign manager last August amid questions about his ties to a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Energy consultant Carter Page and longtime Republican operative Roger Stone are among them, according to two officials.
Because of those inquiries, Democrats cried foul over Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey last week. Many saw it as an attempt to derail the agency’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia and possible collusion to influence the election.
Unlike Comey, the state officials do not have to worry about job security. Schneiderman and Vance have posts established under state law.
“No one can remove an honest district attorney except the electorate,” said John Moscow, a former deputy to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who helped build the landmark money-laundering case against Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in 1991. “The office is independent, and the legal tools exist to prosecute international economic crime, as we have done in the past.”
Schneiderman was elected in 2010. Not even Gov. Andrew Cuomo can fire him.
Schneiderman has a tumultuous history with the president. Trump has mocked him on Twitter for years, calling him a “lightweight” and a “total failure.”