Even if Trump constrains Mueller, he doesn't have a prayer against the Southern District of New York
Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) first let it be known that they wouldn’t be granting any deferential treatment to a sitting president when they implicated Donald Trump in a felony in a December 2018 court filing. In fact, it was the Southern District that dubbed Trump “Individual-1” in that filing. With respect to the hush money payoffs made by Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to two women prior to the 2016 election, Cohen “acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing recommendation for Trump’s notorious fixer.
It was extraordinary, even by the standards of Trump’s era of corruption, for a president to have a division of his own Justice Department arguing that he had taken part in a criminal conspiracy to deceive the American people.
As the special counsel’s probe begins to wind down at some point, and the federal investigation in Manhattan moves forward, most observers expect SDNY prosecutors to continue being equally, if not more, aggressive. And whatever interference Trump and his aides have been running on the special counsel’s investigation, almost none of it can be redirected at federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Trump, for instance, has indicated that he might try to limit disclosure of Robert Mueller’s report by claiming executive privilege applies to parts of it. Trump even appointed a newly sworn-in attorney general who has expressed skepticism about releasing the report in its entirety.
But the Southern District investigation is like the Mueller probe on steroids, and with fewer restraints.
“When you combine their experience with the traditional independence of the southern district and the reputation it has, this is like another Mueller investigation going on,” former SDNY and Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman told Politico. In fact, SDNY has jurisdiction over Trump’s family business and his political operation, since both of them are based in Manhattan. Plus, any claim to executive privilege does nothing to protect Trump in those settings. As Politico notes, SDNY’s list of informants already includes the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, American Media, Inc.’s CEO David Pecker, and former Trump deputy campaign manager and inaugural official Rick Gates.