For any liberals that might be reading this blog, take this as your trigger warning! Why? As MSNBC opinion columnist Jessica Levinson explained on Monday, former President Trump's 2011-2019 tax returns might not be all that damaging and instead the ultimate nothingburger.
After years of legal wrangling, Trump's tax returns were turned over to New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance on February 22. Since the documents are subject to grand jury secrecy rules, the information won't be released to the public for at least the near future.
You can tell the story will be disheartening for liberals from the title of the Monday article by MSNBC's opinion columnist Jessica Levinson, "Trump's tax returns may not lead to accountability in New York." The subtitle was no more encouraging for liberals, "It's not surprising that critics of Trump hope this is the investigation that finally leads to real consequences. But legally, it's complicated."
Brace yourselves, liberals! She began with this (click "expand"):
Many are watching the New York County district attorney's criminal investigation into the financial dealings of former President Donald Trump and his businesses with bated breath. Will this be the moment that Trump finally faces real "justice" for alleged illegal behavior?
Perhaps not. Two points of serious caution. First, and perhaps obviously, no single criminal investigation will be able to right the many wrongs, both legal and perhaps illegal, that Trump committed over the past four years. We ask too much of the district attorney's investigation if we expect it to remedy the apparent abuse of power and breakdown in constitutional norms that Trump committed during his term in office. Second, even looking more narrowly at the potential criminal behavior being investigated by the district attorney, we are far from knowing the full extent of the investigation. But we do know that some of the more likely charges could be hard to prove.
Translation: The Trump tax returns that liberals were hoping would prove Trump to be have committed crimes and which, more importantly, would prevent him from running again could turn out to be a big nothingburger.
This line couldn't have been anymore of a blatant warning shot: "Even if Trump or his businesses obtained varying and even inaccurate appraisals does not necessarily demonstrate fraud."
Levinson added that "[a]ppraisers apparently use different standards and have a good deal of discretion when making their assessments," so they and "not Trump himself, was the one performing these property valuations."
Therefore, she explained that "[t]his could make it challenging to connect Trump with any alleged fraudulent or otherwise improper activities."
Sniff! And now poor Jessica begins desperately grasping at straws other than Trump's tax returns which to her horror might prove him to be (gasp!) honest (click "expand"):
Looking to the present, there are now other potential ways that private citizen Trump, who no longer enjoys the protections of the presidency, may face legal exposure. Trump could be charged under federal law with incitement of violence based on the events of Jan. 6. But this would require proving, among other things, that it is beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump intended for violence to occur. In other words, it's a hard case to prove. Trump could also technically still face charges of obstruction of justice based on information detailed in the Mueller report. And there are still lingering issues of whether Trump violated federal campaign finance laws, largely based on information provided by his former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
However, as to the biggest hope that liberals have been clinging to like a tax return talisman, Levinson poured cold water on that:
So it's not surprising that critics of Trump hope that this is the investigation, and this is the moment, when he faces real, concrete legal consequences for his actions. But Vance, for one, has his work cut out for him.
The district attorney is looking into something relatively narrow: criminal wrongdoing related to financial dealings. He is not looking into whether Trump abused the power of his office. Neither is the district attorney's office looking into how to strengthen or restore the guardrails of our democracy and preserve our constitutional protections. That work is now for the rest of us to take up.
Exit question: Was it a leak from the New York District Attorney's office that inspired this sad news story by Jessica Levinson?