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Trump fought subpoenas for 3 years.  So why didn’t the Manhattan DA just get a search warrant?

Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in Manhattan on July 19, 2021 in New York City.James Devaney/GC Images

  • The ex-chief of the Manhattan prosecutor’s investigations does not understand: why no search warrant against Donald Trump?

  • Trump successfully fought subpoenas for three years, until Thursday.

  • Other former Manhattan prosecutors say search warrants can actually hamper an investigation.

A former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said it was “remarkable” that former President Donald Trump managed to keep his business records out of the reach of local investigators during three years of subpoenas and legal battles.

It was only Thursday that a Manhattan judge ordered Trump to comply with a series of civil subpoenas from the New York attorney general for the former president’s testimony and personal business documents, many of which the official says. ‘AG believe he kept them at his Trump Tower headquarters.

But with the AG and DA running parallel investigations, why, former Manhattan DA Chief of Investigations Adam Kaufmann wondered, didn’t the DA just walk into Trump Tower with empty boxes and a search warrant?

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

In other words, why rely on the trickier and longer process of civil subpoenas – AG Letitia James issued her first request for Trump business documents in early 2019.

“It’s remarkable,” Kaufmann told Insider of the long battle over Trump’s records.

“This suggests that after all this time, the Trump Organization has managed to evade disclosure of the very documents that would directly point to the involvement and knowledge – or lack thereof – of Trump himself,” did he declare.

“What I don’t understand is this,” added Kaufmann, a white-collar criminal defense partner at Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss.

“If this is true, and there are still documents constituting evidence with the Trump Organization, then why hasn’t the DA prosecuted those documents in any way, or prosecuted the Trump organization for not producing them?”

The Manhattan district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Still, search warrants can be problematic.

“The pros are, obviously, you don’t have to trust the business – you just take things,” said Daniel R. Alonso, who as a former assistant chief DA was second behind Cyrus Vance during his first term.

“A search warrant has an element of surprise,” said Alonso, a partner at Buckley LLP.

“It’s a fantastic tool when an investigation has been secret until then.”

The downsides, he said, are that getting a search warrant “takes a ton of resources, and you can be challenged if you get probable cause wrong or seize a document that goes beyond the scope of the mandate”.

Search warrants can work well when law enforcement wants to seize physical evidence such as guns, drugs or cash, says white-collar defense attorney John Moscow, who has prosecuted complex financial crimes at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

“There are times when you know something is there, you know where it is, and you go in and grab it before it moves,” Moscow told Insider.

But when investigators are looking for paper, subpoenaing whoever has that paper is usually the best route, he said.

This person is then the one to put together the responsive documents – and they can then be asked to sit down and provide context for each page.

“If it’s paperwork, as a prosecutor you need someone to sit down and walk you through that paperwork, and say what the documents are,” said Moscow, who is a senior attorney at Lewis Bach.

“Your chances are much better with a subpoena, and you can’t do that with a search warrant.”

Then there is the question of whether the documents originally requested by James will still be produced now, three years later.

In court papers filed in January, James complained that Trump officials were not helping enough a third-party document search company that was hired, by court order, to help gather all of the subpoenaed documents. .

“Now it’s late in the game,” Alonso said. “Without suggesting anything untoward, to me, if there were steaming physical documents, it’s less likely they’ll still be there” three years later.

Yet hiding or even destroying documents can come back to haunt an accused.

First of all, it’s illegal and punishable by contempt of court.

“The state has a stronger law on this than the federal law,” Alonso said. “The company or the individual can be looked down upon.

And the destruction of a document can backfire on you in a big way.

“[DC-based defense lawyer] Bob Bennett likes to say “No document is as damaging as a document that can be proven to exist”, said Moscow, “but which is not produced”.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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