Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has announced he will not run for re-election, instead serving out the rest of his term until it ends in December.
Mr Vance, whose investigation into Donald Trump’s finances and business dealings is one of the highest-profile cases against the former president, said in a letter to staff announcing his departure that he considered the job “a privilege of a lifetime”.
“I never imagined myself as District Attorney for decades like my predecessors,” he wrote. “I never thought of this as my last job, even though it’s the best job and biggest honour I’ll ever have. I said 12 years ago that change is fundamentally good and necessary for any institution.”
Mr Vance has held office since 2009, during which time he and his department have notched up some major achievements – in particular bringing charges in the case of 6-year-old Etan Patz, kidnapped and killed in 1979. With multiple Democrats duking it out to replace him, it is the investigation into Mr Trump and his organisation’s dealings that may come to define his legacy.
The case, which Mr Trump has called “the greatest political witch hunt in the history of our country” and “fascism, not justice”, is focused on allegations of fraud covering tax, banking and insurance. It covers not just Mr Trump himself, but potentially many other players in his personal orbit – including his children, and Donald Trump Jr in particular.
Mr Trump has always worked hard to keep his financial dealings private, and especially his tax returns. From the start of his presidential campaign he declined to release them on the basis that he was supposedly “under audit”, though even if he were that would not prevent him from sharing them. Excerpts from the returns later released by the New York Times found that he had paid next to no income tax for several years.
The Vance probe goes beyond Mr Trump’s taxes, though, and covers allegations of deliberate over-valuing of a Trump estate in Westchester County, loans from Deutsche Bank, insurance brokerage provided by Aon, and accountancy records from the firm Mazars. Altogether, Mr Vance’s office has subpoenaed millions of pages of documents – by some reports, almost a terabyte of data.
The Trump legal team has fought tooth and nail in the courts to protect Mazars from having to comply with Mr Vance’s subpoenas, but in January, the US Supreme Court rejected a request from the ex-president’s legal team and allowed the subpoena to be enforced. Depending on what charges, if any, are ultimately brought, that decision may yet prove to have been the turning point in the case. And even as Mr Vance plans to leave office at the year’s end, some observers think the omens for Mr Trump are looking worse and worse.
In recent days, Mr Vance has conducted his seventh interview with Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer to Mr Trump who has since turned against him and testified to overseeing hush money payments to women with whom the ex-president had had extramarital affairs.
It was Mr Cohen’s 2018 congressional testimony about the hush money payments that led Mr Vance to open this investigation in the first place. John W Dean, a former lawyer to Richard Nixon who testified in the Watergate investigation, said this week that “I assure you that you do not visit a prosecutor’s office 7 times if they are not planning to indict those about whom you have knowledge.”
Whenever Mr Vance’s next big move comes, he has now put a timer on his own leadership of the investigation – and whether or not it tallies with his expectation that charges can be brought this year might soon become clear.
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