This could be the most important election of 2018
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This could be the most important election of 2018
The 2018 election consists of hundreds of individual races. But the election is ultimately about settling one fundamental question: will Democrats be empowered to provide a check on Trump?
On this score, the most important race of the year may take place Thursday: the Democratic primary for Attorney General of New York.
The Attorney General of New York has unique authority to investigate and prosecute Trump, his associates, and his businesses. In important respects, the powers of the Attorney General of New York exceed those of special counsel Robert Mueller.
The three major Democratic candidates for the position are New York Public Advocate Tish James, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, and law professor Zephyr Teachout.
Recent polling shows that Teachout, Maloney, and James are locked in a very close race. A fourth candidate, former Hillary Clinton aide Leecia Eve trails the field.
A man who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be watching Thursday's results closely. Here's why.
The extraordinary power of the New York Attorney General
The New York Attorney General has an unrivaled authority to hold Trump and his associates to account.
Under New York law, the Attorney General is empowered to bring an action to dissolve the Trump Organization. The legal procedure, known as "Quo Warranto," allows the Attorney General to shut down a company by proving it operates outside its corporate charter. One way to do that is to show that the corporation is committing crimes.
There is growing evidence that the Trump Organization was involved in criminal conduct. Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime attorney, recently pleaded guilty to two felonies. Cohen admitted to intentionally violating campaign finance law when he paid off two women who alleged to have had affairs with Trump. Cohen says that he took this action to protect Trump’s prospects in the presidential election. Crucially, he also says he was reimbursed for these illegal payments by the Trump Organization.
If Robert Mueller or other federal prosecutors secure convictions for Trump associates, Trump has the power to issue a pardon. Trump is rumored to be considering a pardon for Paul Manafort, who was recently convicted of eight felonies.
But if the New York Attorney General investigates, charges and, convicts Trump's associates under state law, Trump cannot issue a pardon.
The New York Attorney General also has standing to bring an action against Trump or the Trump Organization for continuing to receive payments from foreign governments. A similar lawsuit brought by the Attorneys General of Maryland and DC is moving forward in federal court, but thus far New York has declined to join.
New York v. Trump
Teachout has centered her campaign on aggressively investigating Trump. It makes sense; she is a law professor who wrote a book on public corruption.
She has pledged, from her first day in office, to prepare for the possibility that Trump will fire Robert Mueller. (Trump has signaled that he may fire Sessions shortly after November's election, putting that possibility into play.) She would pursue state charges against anyone Trump pardoned, including his family, and continue to pursue investigations started by Mueller that were cut short.
Teachout has also promised to investigate the Trump Organization under the provisions of New York law that allows her to seek complete dissolution of the company. She also says she would pursue a broad criminal investigation into potential "money laundering, bank fraud, and larceny" by Trump, his family, and associates.
The question is: who will follow through?
In New York, corruption and real estate go together like peanut butter and jelly
You can't investigate corruption in New York without taking a hard look at the real estate industry, which is a "petri dish for corruption."
We see this already in the current investigations into the Trump campaign orbit. One of the charges Mueller brought against Paul Manafort was for laundering money by buying a Brooklyn brownstone. (The jury deadlocked on that charge, so he was not convicted.) Jared Kushner's family real estate company was recently fined $210,000 for falsifying "construction permits in an attempt to remove rent-regulated tenants from buildings scattered across the city." (Michael Cohen has been accused of similar conduct.) The illegal campaign contributions Michael Cohen has admitted to were reimbursed by the Trump Organization, a real estate company.
So the question of who will thoroughly investigate Trump is tightly connected to the question of who will thoroughly investigate the New York real estate industry.
Where New York real estate is placing its bets
The candidate who has received the most money from the New York real estate industry is Maloney. He's collected "nearly $338,000 in campaign contributions from individuals and groups with ties to the industry." Maloney also "received a combined $150,000 from eight limited liability companies connected to the Durst Organization, one of New York’s most prominent real estate firms and the co-developers of One World Trade Center."
Stephen Ross, a New York real estate mogul who generally backs Republicans, is supporting Maloney and has set up a political action committee, which is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for ads attacking Teachout.
James has also received significant contributions from the real estate sector, totaling $248,500.
Teachout has not accepted any contributions from the New York real estate industry and is also not accepting money from corporate PACs or LLCs. She has called New York real estate the "spine that connects everything from tenant harassment, to tax fraud to Donald Trump."
How the New York Times chose a candidate
The field for the Democratic nomination for New York Attorney General is legitimately strong. The New York Times notes that James, in particular, "has for decades been a standout fighter for tenants, children and other vulnerable New Yorkers."
But, ultimately, the New York Times concluded that James' campaign contributions from monied interests made her a weaker candidate. "[G]iven the political landscape in New York and elsewhere, the state attorney must be absolutely independent. Such political contributions could become a conflict of interest for any candidate," the Times wrote.
Maloney's run is more quixotic. He is simultaneously running for reelection to Congress. If he's successful in Thursday's primary, his district -- which is relatively conservative -- could flip to Republicans. In declining to endorse Maloney, the Times noted that "[h]is acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars from real estate interests casts a shadow over his appealing résumé and solid government experience."
The paper endorsed Teachout, saying that, as Attorney General, her office of 650 lawyers "could serve as a firewall if President Trump pardons senior aides, dismisses the special counsel, Robert Mueller, or attacks the foundations of state power."
Cuomo campaign caught
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing a primary challenge of his own from actor Cynthia Nixon. Polls show Nixon trailing significantly, but Cuomo and the state's Democratic establishment seem to be taking her campaign pretty seriously.
With election day approaching, the New York Democratic Party recently sent out a mailer implying that Nixon is anti-Semitic.
When the mailer began to create controversy, the state party backtracked, calling the mailing a "mistake." Nixon was not impressed.
The mailers that Governor Cuomo and the NY State Democratic Party have sent out are not only an attack on my family, but on all New Yorkers.
At a time when anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and other hate crimes are on the rise, it’s sickening to exploit people’s real fears like this.
Cuomo, meanwhile, claimed ignorance. "I didn’t know about the mailer. I heard about the mailer. I haven’t seen the mailer. The way I’ve ran this campaign, it’s been on the issues, it’s been positive," he said.
But a report Tuesday evening from the New York Post suggests his campaign was involved.
The smoking-gun email, sent Friday afternoon from an official “andrewcuomo.com” account, suggested that The Post publish a story about Nixon’s support of the pro-Palestinian “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement against Israel.
“Nixon has supported insidious BDS campaign, signing onto letter boycotting Israel,” it says.
“Obviously something you guys have reported on a lot and right before the jewish high holidays!
“Can get you folks on the record slamming her as well,” the aide added.
Before sending the email, a top Cuomo aide sent the reporter a text message: "Hey I got something for you on nixon….I’m going to email to you. But not from me."
In response, Cuomo's press secretary, Abby Collins, said it was unethical for the New York Post to publish the story. "It is apples and oranges, and to disclose an off the record exchange that had been agreed to by the New York Post is a violation of journalistic ethics," Collins said.
The definition of success
As Hurricane Florence barrels toward the East Coast, Trump took the opportunity to reflect on his administration's response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last year.
"I actually think it’s one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about," adding that the administration's response to the storm was an "incredible, unsung success."
The death toll from the storm was recently revised from 64 to 2975. Power was not fully restored to the island for 11 months.
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found nearly half of the rescue workers deployed to Puerto Rico following the storm were "unqualified for the jobs they were doing in the field."
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