Federal Courthouse/Southern District of New York

Southern District a Greater Threat to President Trump than Mueller

Journalist Dominic Carter talks to two veterans of the SDNY

“We’ve seen time and time again, people around the President….willing to cross boundaries, that weren’t crossed before. Mixing of Politics and Law Enforcement. The President is willing to exert pressures in a way that no President really has in a long time. -Former Southern District Prosecutor Mimi Rocah

The term that came up repeatedly as President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee.

“I’m in constant contact with the Southern District regarding on-going investigations.” -Michael Cohen

Southern District Prosecutors work out of a nondescript NYC Brown building in lower Manhattan. It’s right next to Police Headquarters, 1 Police Plaza, and connected to the U.S Attorney's office is the federal court. Former prosecutors we talked to say the Southern District is the biggest threat to President Trump for two MAJOR reasons. They say while Special Counsel Robert Mueller can only investigate potential collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, the SDNY has no limit to the scope of what they can investigate. Roland Riopelle was a prosecutor in the Southern District from 1991 to 1998. We met with him in front of one of the two Federal Courthouses covering the Southern District, The Thurgood Marshall Courthouse at 40 Foley Square in lower Manhattan.

Roland Riopelle
“He (Mueller) can’t investigate things like Insurance fraud, tax fraud….that’s not in his jurisdiction. The Southern District however…has no limits on it’s jurisdiction to investigate. It can investigate Mr. Trump for ever…for anything. And of course they have seized thousands of documents from Mr. Cohen’s office. They have Mr. Cohen to guide them through those documents. They have Alan Weiselberg to guide them through any misdeeds that occured in the Trump organization. So the Southern District has a great deal of more gun powder to come at Mr. Trump with….. in the long run than Mr. Muller does.”-Roland Riopelle/Former Southern District Prosecutor (The full audio of the interview can be heard here)
Mimi Rocah

Mimi Rocah is also a former Southern District Prosecutor and is now a criminal justice fellow at the Pace University Law School. She was a Prosecutor in the Southern District for Sixteen and a half years.

“Counselor is the Southern District, perhaps the President’s worst nightmare?” (Political Anchor Dominic Carter. (The full audio of the interview can be heard here)

“I think in some ways yes, and here’s why. The Southern District of New York, the prosecutors and the agents that they work with, are some of the best investigators around, in the the Department of Justice, in the country. And I think its fair to say that Donald Trump was not running his business, you know for decades….as someone who was expecting that there would be a microscope over it at some point, and now there is…..And that microscope is powerful in the form of the Southern District and the agents that they work with. So I think you take that combination of the way in which I believe he likely conducted his business and these investigators looking at it….and that’s gonna…I think…be real trouble for the President.” -Former Southern District Prosecutor Mimi Rocah.

The former prosecutors say the second reason the Southern District is a bigger threat, aside from being able to cast a wide net…….The Southern District of New York is known for it’s Independence…. avoiding at times even political interfere from the Justice Department in Washington.

“There has always been a real sense of pride at the Southern District in it’s independence. It has always prosecuted some of the biggest most important cases in the country. The Rosenbergs for example, Whittaker Chambers, the Sheikh….so many monumental cases have been prosecuted here.”-Former Southern District Prosecutor Roland Riopelle
“So when we hear so much about the Independence of the Southern District…Is that something…..and independent from Political Influence, Is that something that’s accurate.” (Political Anchor Dominic Carter)
“I think it's absolutely accurate to say that the Southern District is independent in the sense that….it truly as an institution….it is drilled in your head from the day you get there, from the top down, and every day after….that you look at the facts. You look at what possible violations of law have occurred, and you don’t look at who’s party someone belong too…..And that’s why you saw…. your very familiar with it….big prosecutions came out of there, investigations of Democrats and Republicans. You know rich people, not rich people. It truly didn’t matter. It was about the facts of the case, and prosecutors love to make cases, no matter who they’re against. If they're looking at a case, and their going to follow the facts, and they say wow….I have charges here….they're not going to say but wait a minute, I’m not going to be influenced…and they are not intimidated by powerful defense attorneys, and that I think is part of it as well. But they are not independent from the Department of Justice. They’re still within the Department of Justice and need the rules, and policies, and regulations of the Department of Justice.” -Former Southern District Prosecutor Mimi Rocah

Riopelle followed up on the Independence of the Southern District.

“ A very good indication of its independence was the remark by Acting Attorney General Whitaker that quote: They need some adult supervision down there in the Southern District! I can’t think of a better demonstration of the independence of the office than to have the Attorney General complaining, they need better supervision, right.!!” -Former Southern District Prosecutor Roland Riopelle

The Southern District… has already started the paper trail, issuing subpoenas. A sweeping request for documents related to donations and spending by the inauguration committee for President Trump. How the committee raised and spent $107 million on events during the inauguration.

But Prosecutors in the Southern District are not the only ones looking at the paper trail for the inauguration. Subpoenas have gone out from the Attorney General of New Jersey, and the Attorney General from the District of Columbia.

“ They clearly already have very damaging witnesses to interview about the inauguration committee. Remember Rick Gates who has a cooperation agreement with the government was in charge of that. He can guide the Southern District to whatever crimes…if there are crimes…occurred in connection with the Inauguration committee. They have Maria butina…is a cooperator. She attended the inauguration balls and probably knows something about Russian contributions to the inauguration committee.” -Roland Riopelle/Former Southern District Prosecutor

Here’s an interesting point. Former Prosecutor Riopelle also told us… there is no hard and fast rule that directly forbids a sitting president from being indicted — that if the accusations were serious enough the Justice Department etiquette could be thrown out.

“It’s also true Dominic that even if the Federal Government couldn’t indict President Trump, State Attorney Generals could. There clearly no constitutional prohibition on that, and as we know, the NYS Attorney General’s office, for one has a very active investigation of the Trump Foundation, which could result in an indictment of the President. Perhaps.” -Roland Riopelle/Former Southern District Prosecutor
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman

Meanwhile some Southern District Prosecutors were initially skeptical about anyone appointed top U.S. attorney by President Trump in the Southern District. However in a twist, many former prosecutors there are offering praise for the current man holding the job, Geoffrey Berman. A Republican who contributed to the president’s election campaign….and worked for the same law firm as Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani.

“Why has the current U.S. Attorney, Mr. Berman….why has he exceeded in some areas….why has he exceeded expectations?” (Political Anchor Dominic Carter)
“Well I think first of all, the expectations were probably low, NOT because of him, but because of this President. Because we’ve seen time and time again, people around the President willing to cross boundaries, that weren’t crossed before. Mixing of Politics and law enforcement. The President is willing to exert pressures in a way that no President really has in a long time…..certainly since Nixon. So I think when you have that setting people sort of assume, well whoever he puts in is going to bend to that, is going to be susceptible to that, and so far from everything we have seen, that is just not true. Mr. Berman, I think has come across as a man of integrity, a person who recused himself from an important case, and turned it over to career prosecutors…..which is what you want. You want people who are just absolutely free from that political influence, especially right now…and is overseeing cases that I’m sure do not make the President happy. We have even heard about specifics of the President trying to interfere with in Southern District of New York with his acting Attorney General, and that does not seems to have worked.” -Former Southern District Prosecutor Mimi Rocah

Mr. Cohen testified he’s in constant contact with prosecutors at the Southern District. Several investigations into President Trump are pending. Below is the rest of Dominic Carter’s interviews with the former Southern District Prosecutors.

"The Southern District has no such limit on its investigation. It can investigate everything, and anything that it comes across that looks worthy of investigation. They have seized thousands and thousands of documents from Mr. Cohen’s office. They have Mr. Cohen to lead them through those documents. They have Mr. Weiselberg at the Trump organization to lead them through any dubious transactions there. So they have a much greater scope and ability to find and investigate crime than Mr. Mueller does.” — Former Southern District Prosecutor Roland Riopelle

“Now talk to me counselor….You worked in this office….talk to me about the independence of the Southern District.” (Journalist Dominic Carter)

“There has always been a real sense of pride at the Southern District in it’s independence. It has always prosecuted some of the biggest most important cases in the country. The Rosenbergs for example, Whittaker Chambers, the sheikh….so many monumental cases have been prosecuted here that over the years there’s built up a confidence in itself and a willingness to be independent of the Department of Justice.” — Former Prosecutor Roland Riopelle
“That to some degree was trimmed back in the second Bush Administration. And it is in my opinion, less an independent operator than it was before that time but it still carries a great deal of pride in itself and is far more independence I think than most United States Attorney Offices.” — Former Prosecutor Roland Riopelle

“When they subpoena….Federal Prosecutors, inauguration records…what does that say to you counselor?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)

“You know one thing I would like to say in follow up to your last question…A very good indication of it’s independence was the remark by Acting Attorney General Whitaker that quote: They need some adult supervision down there in the Southern District! I can’t think of a better demonstration of the independence of the office than to have the Attorney General complaining, they need better supervision, right.!! — Former Prosecutor Roland Riopelle

“That’s a good point! When they come after Inauguration documents, what does that mean?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)

“That means they will serve subpoenas. They will ultimately secure witnesses to the grand jury. They clearly already have very damaging witnesses to interview about the inauguration committee. Remember Rick Gates who has a cooperation agreement with the government was in charge of that. He can guide the Southern District to whatever crimes…if there are crimes…occurred in connection with the Inauguration committee. They have Maria butina…is a cooperator. She attended the inauguration balls and probably knows something about Russian contributions to the inauguration committee. So they already have witnesses that can lead them in the direction of any problems, if there are any. They can serve subpoenas. They can gather documents. They can review bank records, and pretty soon they can make a case…if there is one to make there.” — Former Prosecutor Roland Riopelle

“Can a sitting President be indicted?” (Journalist Dominic Carter)

“Well you know Dominic, there is a great deal of debate on that topic in the legal community. On two prior occasions, the office of Presidential Counsel has written memoranda opining that a sitting president can not be indicted while he is sitting. But there is no express prohibition on an indictment in the Constitution. Several legal commentators have expressed the view that if Donald Trump committed a crime…to get the office of President, it doesn’t make sense that he wouldn’t be indicted for that crime.” — Former Prosecutor Roland Riopelle
“It’s also true Dominic that even if the Federal Government couldn’t indict President Trump, State Attorney Generals could. There clearly no constitutional prohibition on that, and as we know, the NYS Attorney General’s office, for one has a very active investigation of the Trump Foundation, which could result in an indictment of the President Perhaps.And we know the the district attorney’s office is very actively investigating Mr. Manafort and that could lead to an indictment of Mr. Trump in theory at least. He could be indicted by someone.” — Former Prosecutor Roland Riopelle

“Finally question counselor because you have been fantastic. Is there something that relates to the Southern District that I didn’t ask you, that you feel needs to be on the record here?” (Political Anchor Dominic Carter)

No I think you hit on the main things here, which are that the Southern District of New York, and the agents that they work with…I believe…from everything I know ….having been there for so long…. are really going to follow these facts. If that means that there cases to be made against people, and they are allowed to bring charges against those people or entities they will. If the facts are exonating, and there are no criminal charges to bring, they won’t. And they won’t be afraid to say that either.” -Former Southern District Prosecutor Mimi Rocah