Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Getty Images
the national interest

Republicans Invent a Whole New ‘Witch Hunt’ Defense for Trump’s Tax Crimes

The fair thing would be to let Trump’s criminal accomplices go free.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Getty Images

Manhattan prosecutors Thursday charged Donald Trump’s company with a tax-evasion scheme so blatant and long-standing that not even the Trump family itself could actually deny the crimes occurred. Instead, the Trumps and their defenders fell back on the claim that Trump’s 15-year-long scheme to pay CFO Allen Weisselberg under the table was a piddling thing. Everybody does it, nobody gets charged for it, and therefore, Mr. Trump is once again facing a Witch Hunt.

“Corporations almost never get criminally prosecuted for this sort of thing,” complains Dan McLaughlin (failing to consider how often corporations attempt such blatant tax evasion), “but Vance wanted the name ‘Trump’ in his indictment.” National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, author of one book assailing President Obama’s “Sharia Agenda” and another calling for his impeachment, complains prosecutors “are angering fair-minded people” — the news here is that McCarthy has ever met one — “who can’t help but see a two-tiered society, with its two-tiered justice system, in which Democrats and the radicals with whom they sympathize have immunity, while no infraction by a Republican — and especially, a Trump supporter — is too trivial for a good drawing and quartering.”

The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, characteristically, goes even farther: “The politicized attacks on Trump — including the blatant weaponization of our legal system — are *at best* 3rd-world banana republic stuff but more accurately and disturbingly authoritarian.” Authoritarian! First they came for the millionaire tax cheats, but I said nothing.

It is true that tax-evasion cases do not always result in criminal charges. It’s not true that they never do. “Small companies, including restaurants and family-owned businesses, are routinely charged criminally for state tax violations in New York,” one prosecutor tells the Washington Post.

The rather obvious context for the decision to charge Weisselberg is, first, Donald Trump’s decades-long crime spree, which has been documented by his family members, tax forms, prosecutors, and allegations prosecutors are currently pursuing.

Second, there is Trump’s curious habit of sealing himself off from any criminal liability by refusing to use email or put his name on any document. Indeed, Trump stunned his lawyers in the White House by demanding they refrain from taking notes in his presence, insisting that his old lawyer, Roy Cohn, never took notes. (Cohn’s habit was no doubt appreciated by his mob-boss clients.)

The reason Trump takes such pains to avoid leaving a written record of his decisions is that he is a gigantic crook. That’s why the prosecutors are focusing on turning Weisselberg: They need his testimony to get avoid of Trump’s own direction of his illegal schemes.

But rather than acknowledge this obvious interpretation, Trump’s defenders instead present the prosecutors’ inability to produce documents implicating Trump personally as if it proves Trump’s innocence. “Vance is left trying to squeeze out of the CFO the case he apparently can’t make on the documents,” sneers McCarthy. “You can bet that [Prosecutor Cyrus Vance] would have indicted The Donald if he had the goods,” argues McLaughlin.

Except the reason Vance doesn’t have the goods on Trump is because of Trump’s mob-boss habit of avoiding a paper trail. Now, obviously, prosecutors can’t just put him behind bars because they know he’s guilty. What they can do is charge his subordinates for their clear criminal violations, and hope the threat forces his underlings to turn on him.

The Republican position is that a millionaire like Donald Trump can spend years engaging in systematic financial fraud, but as long as he takes precautions not to leave a paper trail, not only should he get away with it, but so should his accomplices who didn’t take those precautions.

Trump’s defenders don’t say they’re worried Weisselberg will flip on Trump. They claim their real concern is that “real” criminals — wink, wink — are getting away in order to focus on Trump’s crooks. Prosecutors are “declining to prosecute radical-left rioters and allowing gangbangers to prey on urban communities under nonenforcement,” frets McCarthy. “Equal justice under the law,” reasons McLaughlin, “is violated not only when we give powerful people a pass in cases that would get ordinary people locked up, but also when prominent figures get pursued over things that would never get a normal person prosecuted.”

If a normal person had taken advantage of George Floyd protests to steal a million dollars, I’m guessing they would in fact be charged with a crime. And if they had stolen the loot over a decade and a half, while memorializing their crimes on paper, I think the case for prosecution would be even stronger. The defense of Trump is reduced to pretending that he isn’t a career criminal, and that subjecting him to anything remotely like the normal legal standard most Americans follow is a dastardly liberal scheme.

New Republican ‘Witch Hunt’ Defense for Trump’s Tax Crimes