— CSPAN (@cspan) February 27, 2019
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) elicited testimony from Michael Cohen on Wednesday that may have implicated President Donald Trump in felony federal wire fraud, a white collar criminal expert tells Law&Crime.
The exchange between Ocasio-Cortez and Cohen was brief in and of itself–taking up less than 30 seconds of the congresswoman’s total four minutes with Trump’s former attorney and fixer–but appears to have contained multitudes in that short stretch of time.
AOC: To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?
AOC: Who else knows that the president did this?
Cohen: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari.
AOC: And where would the committee find more information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?
Cohen: Yes. And you’d find it at the Trump Org.
If Cohen was telling the truth during this portion of his testimony–and if there’s anything in the form of receipts to back his accusations up–a case for wire fraud would be entirely appropriate here, computer law expert and criminal defense attorney Tor Ekeland told Law&Crime.
“Basically, the wire fraud statutes make it a federal crime to use any scheme or artifice to defraud if it’s done via any form of electronic communication like telephone, or the internet etc,” Ekeland said.
If, for example, any of the documents connected to the alleged asset inflation scheme were faxed or emailed or if any discussions of the alleged scheme occurred over the phone, this would qualify as a communication in interstate commerce.
During a follow-up phone call, Ekeland elaborated on just how damaging Cohen’s testimony actually was.
“The important thing to note about the wire fraud and the bank fraud statutes is they’re extremely broad and you don’t actually have to have succeeded in committing the fraud you were trying to initiate,” Ekeland said. “The second you’re communicating in interstate commerce–with a telephone or email, the wires– they’ve got you.”
Those “wires,” Ekeland explained, were originally a reference to U.S. telegraph lines, but the statutory language now applies to any form of electronic communication.
As for specifically applying the law on point here–contained at 18 U.S.C. § 1343–to President Trump?
Ekeland said that’d be easy enough for a prosecutor to charge:
If he’s inflating his assets to get a better insurance rate or whatever, he’s using a scheme or artifice–which is the language of the statute–that’s arguably using a scheme or artifice to defraud the insurance company.
And it’s not just the underlying effort to inflate–or deflate–his assets that could land Trump in trouble here.
“He’s not just implicated in the substantive part of the statute but also the surrounding statutes like conspiracy to commit wire fraud, solicitation [to commit wire fraud] and maybe even accessory [to commit wire fraud] after the fact,” Ekeland said.
“I’ve had to defend people on these charges,” Ekeland continued, noting that he wasn’t actually a fan of the statutes themselves “because they’re so broad.”
The statute’s broad applicability tends to result in less-privileged defendants languishing in the federal criminal system and Ekeland singled out this two-tiered tendency of federal law:
If Trump were an unknown person, he’d been in jail during pre-trial [and] strung up by a fucking jury by now.
[image via screengrab/CSPAN-3]