As the Southern District of New York continues probing various aspects of President Donald Trump’s business dealings and political operation, it is possible that the Manhattan-based federal prosecutors might ignore Justice Department guidance that says a sitting president cannot be indicted, according to Politico.
Alumni from the office have said SDNY's investigative powers and independent streak are so robust that — depending on what it finds on Trump — the office could skirt DOJ legal protocol dating to Watergate that holds a sitting president can’t be indicted.
“I’m thoroughly convinced the SDNY will make its own evaluation. They will not say that’s a department policy,” said Jon Sale, a former SDNY and Watergate prosecutor who is close with Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. “They’re obviously looking at the president and I wouldn’t rule out that they could decide you can indict a sitting president.”
SDNY prosecutors are looking into Trump’s inaugural committee, specifically how it raised and spent a record $107 million.
The office has also launched investigations into the president’s company, former personal attorney, and campaign practices, Politico noted — and prosecutors have even gone so far as to implicate Trump in criminal activity.
Add it all up and the result is a spate of hard-to-stymie, legally perilous probes that appears on track to drag on well into Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. SDNY stands poised to carry on [special counsel Robert] Mueller’s efforts whenever the special counsel’s office closes shop, and it’s likely to draw even more attention if freshly confirmed Attorney General William Barr — who now oversees the Russia probe as DOJ head — clamps down on the public release of Mueller’s findings.
The federal prosecutors in New York have far greater leeway than Mueller, whose probe is limited in scope per Justice Department orders.
“This is why I’ve been saying for months that the Southern District of New York investigation presents a much more serious threat to the administration, potentially, than what Bob Mueller is doing,” Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and former federal prosecutor, told ABC News earlier this month.
Elaborating on MSNBC, Christie said that SDNY, unlike Mueller, has “no restrictions on their purview.”
“Bob Mueller has a task: It’s Russian interference and potential collusion in the 2016 election,” he said. “Southern District of New York is whatever the heck you want.”