A key law firm that handled Donald Trump‘s tax affairs has said it will cease representing him in the midst of an ongoing probe into alleged tax fraud.
Morgan Lewis & Bockius, the global law firm headquartered in Philadelphia, said this week that it would cut ties with Trump and his businesses.
‘We have had a limited representation of the Trump Organization and Donald Trump in tax-related matters,’ a firm spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law on Wednesday. ‘For those matters not already concluded, we are transitioning as appropriate to other counsel.’
It comes as Trump faces a criminal probe into tax matters led by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, and a civil investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Morgan Lewis partner Sheri Dillon famously appeared at Trump’s side at his first official press conference after the 2016 election, at which huge stacks of documents were wheeled out as he announced his intention not to divest from his businesses or form a blind trust during his presidency.
Morgan Lewis partner Sheri Dillon (above) appeared at Trump’s side at his first official press conference after the 2016 election. The firm is cutting ties with Trump
Trump faces a criminal probe into tax matters led by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, who is investigating potential tax, loan and insurance fraud at the Trump Organization
After the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, law firm Seyfarth Shaw also notified the Trump Organization that it would no longer represent the business in commercial matters.
Vance is waiting on a US Supreme Court decision that could force Trump’s accounting firm Mazars USA to hand over his tax records from 2011 to 2018.
However, Vance has already obtained some of the information from other sources, people familiar with the matter told Fortune this week.
Vance’s criminal probe, which began as an investigation into hush money payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, has reportedly widened into examining potential tax, loan and insurance fraud at the Trump Organization.
Trump’s tax returns are considered to be the keystone in the case, and depending on the level of access Vance has gained to them, his probe could now be at an advanced stage.
Trump has previously called Vance’s probe ‘a fishing expedition’ and ‘a continuation of the witch hunt — the greatest witch hunt in history,’ accusing the elected Democrat of partisan motives.
Vance’s probe, which began more than two years ago, originally focused on hush money payments that the president’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid before the 2016 election to two women – a pornographic film star and a former Playboy model – who said they had sexual encounters with Trump.
The district attorney has suggested in recent court filings that the probe is now broader and could focus on potential bank, tax and insurance fraud, as well as falsification of business records.
On Wednesday, Trump lost the legal protection of the presidency as he left office. Above, Trump and Melania are seen arriving in Palm Beach
Vance’s probe, which began more than two years ago, originally focused on hush money payments made by the president’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen (center)
If Vance discovered evidence of crimes in his investigation, it is possible that he could charge the Trump Organization rather than Trump personally. Criminal charges would require evidence of criminal intent, and would be difficult to bring without the cooperation of an insider witness.
On Wednesday, Trump lost the protection of the presidency as President Joe Biden was sworn in. It is a widely accepted tenet that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.
Trump ultimately declined to issue controversial pardons for himself or his family members, which in any event would not protect him from state charges, such as Vance might bring, but only federal ones.
Although charges were not expected eminently as Trump left the White House for Florida, Vance’s probe appeared to be widening.
Last Thursday, New York prosecutors conducted an hours-long interview of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, about his old employer’s finances.
And last week, Vance’s prosecutors began looking into a 212-acre Trump Organization property in New York called Seven Springs as part of an investigation that started over a year ago.
The compound is also one of four Trump Organization properties under civil investigation by New York’s state attorney general, who is probing whether Eric Trump and various corporate entities artificially inflated property values.
New York Attorney General Letitia James (above) is also conducting a civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization artificially inflated property values to obtain tax benefits
Also in the spotlight: The New York AG is investigating whether there was a tax fraud involving the Seven Springs Estate in Bedford, Westchester County, north of New York City.
Meanwhile, Biden’s Justice Department must decide whether to continue representing Trump now that he has left the presidency.
The DOJ typically serves as counsel for executive agencies and the Office of the President in civil lawsuits, but Attorney General-nominee Merrick Garland will have to decide whether to continue offering that protection to Trump if and when he is confirmed. No hearing date has been set for Garland’s confirmation.
Justice Department lawyers have been representing Trump in a number of matters, including rape accuser E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit.
In that case, the DOJ tried unsuccessfully to substitute the United States as the defendant in Trump’s place. After a judge rejected the move, the DOJ appealed.
On Friday, DOJ lawyers are set to appear in a DC court on Trump’s behalf in a case involving the House Ways & Means Committee’s attempt to obtain Trump’s tax returns from federal agencies that have them.
Trump faces legal threats on a number of fronts after leaving office.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is conducting a civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization artificially inflated property values to obtain tax benefits.
James began investigating potential fraud in Donald Trump’s business dealings in March 2019 after the president’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen told Congress that Trump had repeatedly inflated the value of his assets to obtain more favorable terms for loans and insurance coverage.
That inquiry is a civil investigation, which could result in financial penalties but not jail time.
Trump also faces separate defamation lawsuits related to alleged sexual assaults, both of which he denied, brought by two women – E. Jean Carroll, a former Elle magazine writer, and Summer Zervos, a 2005 contestant on ‘The Apprentice.’
Mary Trump, the president’s niece, also has filed a lawsuit accusing him and two family members of fraud and conspiracy to deprive her of her share of the family’s real-estate empire.
Trump also could face a criminal prosecution brought by the U.S. Justice Department for federal income-tax evasion charges. The New York Times recently reported Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017.
Trump rejected the Times’ findings and it is not clear if he violated the law. Any federal prosecution would be contentious, and Biden has been cautious on the issue and questioned the value of such a prosecution, but says he would not interfere with the Justice Department’s judgment.