The American criminal justice system, despite proclamations of it being the "greatest system in the world," is quite unforgiving. With 5% of the world's population, the US incarcerates 25% of the world's prisoners. Prosecutors, particularly in federal courts, are quite adept at criminalizing even seemingly inconsequential acts.
As Donald Trump's past business practices come under increased scrutiny during this election cycle, a question emerging is how he has thus far escaped criminal prosecution. How can someone operate a scam "university" without criminal, most likely federal, charges ultimately being filed? The facts are not in dispute. Monies were obtained under false pretenses as it is not bona fide a university. Both the mails and internet were used to further the scheme. A first year law student could likely obtain an indictment for mail and wire fraud under such circumstance.
Trump's operation of his foundation, purportedly a charity, presents another straightforward case of fraud. It is uncontroverted that Trump directed income to his "charity," and then used these purported donations for personal expenses. One need not be a federal prosecutor to recognize a prima facie case of tax fraud.
But where are the federal prosecutors? Federal prisons are packed with people serving decades-long sentences for arguably far less egregious acts. Laws governing mail and wire fraud have been held to be interpreted as widely as possible, transforming them into all-encompassing catchalls.
One aspect of Trump's life that has been underreported is his good fortune to have a sitting federal judge for an older sister. Maryanne Trump Barry was appointed to the federal bench in New Jersey by Ronald Regan in 1983. Bill Clinton elevated her to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 1999.
Donald Trump has been loath to admit aiding the effort to appoint his sister to the federal bench, but MaryanneTrump Barrie has acknowledged as much. The New York Times reported that:
According to a person involved in the effort to appoint Ms. Barry, who discussed the clandestine strategy on the condition of anonymity, Mr. Trump had his lawyer, Roy M. Cohn, a politically connected former counsel to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, lobby Edwin Meese III, then a senior White House aide, to put his sister on the bench. "I'm no different than any other brother that loves his sister," Mr. Trump said when asked about Mr. Cohn's pressure on the Reagan administration. "My sister got the appointment totally on her own merit." Ms. Barry herself has given her brother some of the credit for her appointment. "There's no question Donald helped me get on the bench," she was quoted as saying in Gwenda Blair's "The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire. I was good, but not that good."
So how can having a high-ranking federal judge as a sister be helpful in escaping the scrutiny of typically tenacious federal prosecutors?
The Bridgegate scandal currently unfolding in a Newark, NJ federal court, the very same court in which Maryanne Trump Barrie began her judicial career, offers some insight into the discretionary power of federal judges and prosecutors. Governor Chris Christie has been identified as a co-conspirator by both the prosecution and defense, yet remains uncharged federally. Defense and prosecution witnesses have offered testimony about Christie's direct participation in the conspiracy to obstruct the George Washington Bridge. Prosecution witnesses in federal court are well-prepped before offering testimony, evidencing more confirmation that federal prosecutors are on-board with the assertion that Christie was an active participant in the scheme.