No one knows exactly why President Donald Trump decided to fire Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. According to one report, he was investigating a key member of Trump’s cabinet. But Bharara’s dismissal has added to the number of skilled public corruption prosecutors who are suddenly available for hire.
For that reason, the decision may backfire on Trump.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday reports that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has hired one of Bharara’s top deputies, Howard Master, “to focus specifically on issues involving the Trump administration.”
Master’s portfolio, according to the report, will extend beyond simply trying to combat Trump’s policies like the Muslim ban. He will seek to take on Trump himself for illegal activities. Specifically, Masters will explore taking action against Trump for violating the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments.
In addition to challenging White House policies in court, Mr. Schneiderman’s office is expected to explore whether it has any standing to pursue cases that hinge on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, according to people familiar with the matter. That provision prohibits federal officeholders from accepting payments from foreign governments.
Last month, ThinkProgress detailed how this could work. Corporations, including the Trump Organization, are a privilege afforded by the state. But in order to maintain that privilege, a corporation must conduct business legally.
State attorneys general are empowered to bring proceedings against corporations to determine whether they are being used as a conduit for illegal activity.
Is the Trump Organization being used to funnel payments from foreign governments to President Trump, in violation of the Constitution?
Master could take action, called a Quo Warranto proceeding, to find out. If successful, Master could enjoin the Trump Organization from certain activities or even dissolve the corporation completely.
Jed Shugerman, a Fordham Law professor who has studied Quo Warranto proceedings extensively, said that while a Quo Warranto suit could be brought by virtually any state, New York is the ideal state to do so because it is the center of Trump’s business activities.
Schneiderman v. Trump
Schneiderman has a record of taking on Trump and winning. He sued Trump over Trump University, alleging that Trump defrauded students.
During the campaign, Trump claimed that suit was baseless and he would “win easily.” He even promised to reopen Trump U after the campaign.
In December, however, Trump reversed course and agreed to pay a $25 million settlement to settle a variety of litigation around Trump U, including $4 million to Schneiderman.
If Trump’s tweets are any indication, Schneiderman is well under Trump’s skin. A small selection:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2014
.@AGSchneiderman must take a drug test immediately—make results public. NY Attorney General cannot be a cokehead.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2014
Lightweight @AGSchneiderman is driving business & jobs out of NY. Only wants self publicity—a total loser!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2014
It's Tuesday. @AGSchneiderman is wearing Revlon eyeliner today. Governor Cuomo alerted all to this.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2014
To Jamie Dimon—I love kicking lightweight @AGSchneiderman’s ass. Stop settling and fight!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 31, 2014
We may hear more about Schneiderman’s eyeliner soon.