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NY Times Trump Tax Story Has Enough Information to Justify New Special Counsel, Says Former Prosecutor

Donald Trump

Does the new report on Donald Trump’s tax returns describe potential criminality? A former federal prosecutor says there’s enough to justify an investigation, and that the possible appointment of another special counsel “should be in play.”

“Luckily, regulations from 20 years ago provide for what happens when such a conflict of interest exists: the Attorney General ‘will appoint a Special Counsel,'” wrote Buckley LLP partner Daniel R. Alonso, a former federal prosecutor who worked in the Eastern District of New York. “Now, we’ve been down this path before, and it didn’t turn out well for the Attorney General who recused, and the Acting AG got a world of hell rained down on him for appointing a Special Counsel.”

That’s a reference to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged links to Russian interference in the 2016 election. Sessions became one of the president’s regular punching bags due to this decision.

As for that “Acting AG,” that’s former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who picked former FBI Director Robert Mueller to run the Russia probe.

“Nevertheless, if you or I had, say, deducted expenses that should have been personal, we’d be investigated,” Alonso said. “Not saying there is necessarily a crime here; just that there’s enough to investigate. But those kinds of deductions are routinely prosecuted in federal court.”

As an example, Alonso cited a case in which Albert J. Pirro Jr., the now-former husband of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, was found guilty in a 2000 tax fraud case.

“If I were a prosecutor, I’d want to know whether the IRS civil auditors had found what are called ‘badges of fraud’ – indicators that incorrect deductions had been done intentionally through some sort of deceptive act – & I’d want to see the audit results,” Alonso said. “But it seems that the Special Counsel possibility should be in play. Too close to the election, perhaps? Um, is anything too close anymore?”

Trump has denied a key detail of the Times report. He said it was “fake news” that he paid just $750 on his federal income taxes in 2016.

“Actually I pay tax,” Trump said. “You will see that as soon as my tax returns. It’s under audit. It’s been under audit for a long time. The IRS does not treat me well, they treat me like the Tea Party and they never treat me well, they treat me very badly.”

Trump Organization ‎Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Alan Garten also sparred with the Times in the article over the newspaper’s interpretation of the financial information.

The president took the unusual step of refusing to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaign. He has long maintained that he could not do so because he was under audit, but IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig has said that there’s no rule that stops the release of tax returns just because they are under audit. At the same time, Rettig said the following: “Would any experienced tax lawyer representing Trump in an I.R.S. audit advise him to publicly release his tax returns during the audit? Absolutely not.”

In any case, details from the Times certainly raised eyebrows, but it’s unclear if any of that will lead to credible allegations of criminal wrongdoing.

Tax law expert Professor Andy Grewal, who teaches at the University of Iowa School of Law, did not seem to immediately see “bombshells.”

“I haven’t seen this level of hysteria since yesterday,” he wrote.

[Image via Joshua Roberts/Getty Images]

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