Hmmm: Manhattan DA empanels new grand jury in Trump Org probe ... and others

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

An ominous development for the Trumps and those working in their real-estate empire — and perhaps one person in particular. There’s only one reason a district attorney empanels a “special” grand jury, and it’s not to close the case with no indictments. Based on the Washington Post’s description, however, it’s not clear just how “special” this grand jury actually is:

Manhattan’s district attorney has convened the grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former president Donald Trump, other executives at his company or the business itself, should prosecutors present the panel with criminal charges, according to two people familiar with the development.

The panel was convened recently and will sit three days a week for six months. It is likely to hear several matters — not just the Trump case ­— during its term, which is longer than a traditional New York state grand-jury assignment, these people said. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. Generally, special grand juries such as this are convened to participate in long-term matters rather than to hear evidence of crimes charged routinely.

Does this really signify a new development in the Trump probe? Or is this Cy Vance’s way of clearing his desk? Two months ago, Vance announced that he would retire at the end of the year, declining to run for a fourth term in office. Given that this is already late May and that this grand jury is “likely to hear several matters — not just the Trump case,” this might just be Vance’s attempt to wrap up all of his cases before he rides off into the sunset. The six-month term of this grand jury seems awfully coincidental to Vance’s exit date.

The Post insists this means the investigation has gone into high gear:

The move indicates that District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s investigation of the former president and his business has reached an advanced stage after more than two years. It suggests, too, that Vance thinks he has found evidence of a crime — if not by Trump, by someone potentially close to him or by his company.

Vance’s investigation is expansive, according to people familiar with the probe and public disclosures made during related litigation. His investigators are scrutinizing Trump’s business practices before he was president, including whether the value of specific properties in the Trump Organization’s real estate portfolio were manipulated in a way that defrauded banks and insurance companies, and if any tax benefits were obtained illegally through unscrupulous asset valuation.

The district attorney also is examining the compensation provided to top Trump Organization executives, people familiar with the matter have said.

That likely means Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Org CFO, who knows all of the machinations within the Trump empire. Vance needs to either prosecute Weisselberg or flip him, or likely both, to get to anyone in the Trump family — assuming any criminal wrongdoing took place at all, of course, which hasn’t yet been established. Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law has apparently told Vance about undeclared compensation that might make Weisselberg vulnerable to tax-fraud charges and give Vance leverage to turn Weisselberg against the Trumps.

CBS News’ Rikki Kleiman sees Weisselberg as either the target of the grand jury, or potentially the tool Vance plans to use with it:

Klieman calls this a “special grand jury,” noting that Donald Trump should be “very worried” about Vance’s move. Anyone facing a DA investigation would likely already be very worried, but again it’s not clear just how “special” this grand jury actually is. Topping the list of people who should be very worried about it, though,  is Weisselberg.