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Incoming New York attorney general plans wide-ranging investigations of Trump and family

Just-elected Letitia James, who takes office next month, tells NBC she will probe real estate deals, Trump Tower meeting, emoluments, Trump Foundation and more.
New York Attorney Gen.-elect Letitia James, who takes office next month and is planning extensive probes of President Donald Trump and his family members. Andy Katz / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images file
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By Allan Smith

New York Attorney Gen.-elect Letitia James says she plans to launch sweeping investigations into President Donald Trump, his family and "anyone" in his circle who may have violated the law once she settles into her new job next month.

"We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well," James, a Democrat, told NBC News in her first extensive interview since she was elected last month.

James outlined some of the probes she intends to pursue with regard to the president, his businesses and his family members. They include:

  • Any potential illegalities involving Trump's real estate holdings in New York, highlighting a New York Times investigation published in October into the president's finances.
  • The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian official.
  • Examine government subsidies Trump received, which were also the subject of Times investigative work.
  • Whether he is in violation of the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution through his New York businesses.
  • Continue to probe the Trump Foundation.

"We want to investigate anyone in his orbit who has, in fact, violated the law," said James, who was endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

James campaigned on passing a bill to change New York's double jeopardy laws with an eye on possible pardons coming out of the White House. James told NBC News she wants to be able to pursue state charges against anyone the president were to pardon over federal charges or convictions and whose alleged crimes took place in the state. Under current New York law, she might not be able to do that.

"I think within the first 100 days this bill will be passed," she said, adding, "It is a priority because I have concerns with respect to the possibility that this administration might pardon some individuals who might face some criminal charges, but I do not want them to be immune from state charges."

She's also enlisting help from some prosecutorial heavy hitters, like former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, as a part of her transition to help her identify important hires for her office with an eye on bringing in experts for its Trump-related investigations.

New York is home to the president's namesake business, the Trump Organization, and it is where Trump's presidential campaign was headquartered and his reelection campaign as well. And it is where a number of key events under special counsel Robert Mueller's microscope, such as the controversial June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, took place. All of that falls within James' jurisdiction.

As a result, she is about to become one of the most recognizable — and powerful — state attorneys general in the country.

"Taking on President Trump and looking at all of the violations of law I think is no match to what I have seen in my lifetime," James said.

Currently the city's public advocate for a few more weeks, James is set to take over for New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood. She was appointed to fill in for the remainder of Eric Schneiderman's term after he resigned earlier this year following accusations of sexual misconduct.

The most prominent litigation between the attorney general's office and the president involves the Trump Foundation. Schneiderman began probing the charity in 2016 and Underwood later filed the lawsuit against Trump, his adult children and the foundation in June.

The foundation is accused of engaging in illegal political coordination with the Trump campaign, self-dealing and violating legal obligations. The Trumps and the foundation could face millions of dollars in penalties as a result. Trump's lawyers tried and failed to have the case thrown out in New York state Supreme Court, alleging the probe was politically motivated.

Underwood also was investigating whether Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which generally prohibits federal officials from receiving gifts or payments from foreign or state governments.

The White House, Trump Organization, an attorney representing the company and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment.

Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz told NBC News that the president has "considerably more vulnerability" when faced with New York state investigations because he can't hold out the offer of pardons or fire investigators, though he said James' scope would be limited to matters occurring before Trump became president.

He added that it remains an open question as to whether a sitting president can be charged with a state crime.

For her part, James said she thinks Mueller's "doing an excellent job."

"I think he's closing in on this president," she said, "and his days are going to be coming to an end shortly."

Allan Smith

Allan Smith is a political reporter for NBC News.

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