A few miles south of the namesake tower where Donald Trump began his run for president, New York prosecutors are grinding away at an investigation into his business dealings that could shadow him long after he leaves office in January.
The probe led by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is one of several legal entanglements likely to intensify when Trump loses power — and immunity from prosecution — upon leaving the White House.
Trump faces two New York state inquiries into whether he misled tax authorities, banks or business partners. Two women alleging he sexually assaulted them are suing him. Some Democrats are calling for the revival of a federal campaign finance investigation that appeared to end under U.S. Attorney General William Barr.
It isn't known whether any investigation has gathered sufficient evidence to charge Trump with any crimes.
Prosecuting a former president would also be an unprecedented step in a country that has sought, since its founding, to sweep aside a departing commander-in-chief’s alleged transgressions in favor of a peaceful transition of power.
“With the country so sharply polarized in 2020, would a legal battle ultimately be seen as political retaliation? That is a difficult calculation,” said Meena Bose, executive director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University.
Trump has said that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself for any federal offenses, but the concept remains untested because no president has ever attempted to do so. A 1974 Justice Department opinion said presidents could not pardon themselves because that would violate the “fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case.”
Trump has used his pardon power to help out friends and high-profile defendants in the past, commuting the sentence of longtime friend Roger Stone in July and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in February, and has suggested he could do more of the same before his term ends.