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Cy Vance Jr. is not going to save America from Donald Trump. The Manhattan prosecutor is reportedly preparing to bring charges as soon as Thursday against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, for allegedly evading taxes on fringe benefits paid to some of the company’s employees. Compared to Trump’s crimes against democracy, it all seems like small potatoes.
Trump has two factors on his side. Legally, financial crimes are notoriously difficult to prosecute successfully, so there is a not-inconsiderable chance that the charges could fail in court. Politically, it is the case that tax avoidance among the rich and connected is fairly commonplace. The former president might be guilty in this regard, but he can also plausibly claim that he and his associates have been singled out because of his political prominence. Vance, after all, has a reputation for otherwise taking it easy on the rich and powerful.
There is widespread conjecture that charges against Weisselberg, who has long been Trump’s right-hand man in his business dealings, will pressure him to flip and expose his boss directly to more-potent criminal charges. Perhaps we’re watching a redux of how authorities a century ago finally nabbed the gangster Al Capone, who went to prison on tax evasion charges after a career of murder and bootlegging. But there is a critical difference: Al Capone wasn’t a former president of the United States who still had a national political party in his thrall and a conservative media ecosystem dedicated to advancing his interests.
My colleague Bonnie Kristian speculated last month that merely investigating the Trump Organization could “hand Trump a lengthy news cycle, likely a months-long invitation to get back in the spotlight.” Bringing actual charges against his business seems likely to make that prediction come true: Trump is never more in his element than when he has a “witch hunt” to decry, a way to promote the idea that he — and through him, his followers — is being persecuted by the elites. Vance, a scion of the Democratic Party and the American establishment, is a relatively easy target in this regard. Instead of hobbling Trump’s post-presidential political career, a round of prosecutions could end up empowering him.