Why has President Trump’s charity faced years of legal scrutiny? And what does the New York attorney general’s lawsuit against it mean?
On Thursday, the New York State attorney general sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation, charging it with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.”
The lawsuit follows years of scrutiny of President Trump’s charitable activities and adds to the president’s extensive legal challenges, amid a continuing investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
What is the Trump Foundation?
Mr. Trump established the Donald J. Trump Foundation in 1987, when he was a New York City real estate mogul, with the stated mission of collecting and maintaining money “exclusively for charitable, religious, scientific, literary or educational purposes,” either directly or by donating to other organizations. It is a private, nonprofit corporation. In its most recent I.R.S. filing, reporting as of Dec. 31, 2016, it had approximately $1 million in assets.
Mr. Trump served as the foundation’s president from its start until Jan. 23, 2017, three days after he was inaugurated as president. Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump also stepped down from her position on the foundation’s board of directors. His sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., are still members of the board.
Mr. Trump admitted to using the foundation’s money to contribute to political causes. He was also accused of diverting funds to settle disputes involving his businesses, failing to disburse funds to charities to which he said he had given large amounts of money, and publicly claiming credit for donating funds that had actually come from other groups.
After the election, Mr. Trump announced that he would dissolve the foundation to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, a move the attorney general’s office said would require its approval, given the continuing investigation.
What are the accusations in the lawsuit?
“Improper and extensive political activity”
According to the lawsuit, the Trump foundation’s board “knowingly permitted” it to be “co-opted by Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”
But the fund-raiser was planned, organized, financed and directed by campaign staff, according to the attorney general’s petition; and afterward, campaign staff took control of the funds, “directing the timing, amounts and recipients of the grants.”
The Trump Foundation also failed to disclose that it had donated $25,000 in 2013 to a candidate for Florida’s attorney general seat, in violation of law that prohibits private foundations from making political contributions.
“Repeated and willful self-dealing transactions”
Mr. Trump and the foundation were accused of a wide array of “self-dealing transactions,” or transactions that were designed to serve himself rather than the foundation’s intended beneficiaries.
The foundation also paid $5,000 in 2013 to a Washington, D.C., charitable organization to feature Trump International Hotels in its charity event programs, and $32,000 in 2015 to a land use organization to cover costs related to a Trump property.
The suit accused the foundation of being “little more than an empty shell.” It has no employees, and the board has not met since 1999.
“In the absence of a functioning board,” the petition says, “Mr. Trump ran the Foundation according to his whim, rather than the law,” individually approving grants and disbursements with no oversight from board members.
What does this mean for Mr. Trump?
The suit seeks to bar Mr. Trump from serving on the leadership of any charitable organization operating in New York for 10 years, and to bar his eldest children, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, for one year.
If successful, it would force Mr. Trump and the three children to pay $2.8 million in restitution and damages. It would also force Mr. Trump to repay the foundation for up to double the amount of benefits he obtained after July 1, 2014 — a sum of millions. And it would dissolve the Trump foundation and require it to cooperate with the attorney general’s office in disbursing any remaining funds it possesses.
(Mr. Trump had already announced his intention to dissolve the foundation, and he has already paid more than $330,000 in reimbursements and penalty taxes since 2016.)
The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action.
None have publicly expressed interest, and it is unclear whether they would also seek to run in the general election in November.
New York’s solicitor general, Barbara D. Underwood, will lead the office in the meantime, according to Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. Ms. Underwood, a graduate of Harvard and Georgetown, has argued 20 cases before the Supreme Court and served as a clerk for former Justice Thurgood Marshall.
According to The New Yorker, Mr. Schneiderman slapped, choked or spat on at least four women with whom he had been romantically involved, two of whom spoke on the record. The horrific accusations included alcohol-fueled rages, racist remarks, drug abuse and threats — including to kill the women or use his power as the state’s top law enforcement officer against them if they defied him.
Politicians and pundits in both parties joined in swift and unsparing condemnation of Mr. Schneiderman. But the conversation quickly turned partisan, given Mr. Schneiderman’s meteoric rise as a relentless and outspoken legal foe of Mr. Trump who had sued the federal administration more than 100 times over policies ranging from immigration to taxation.
Prominent Republicans nationwide reveled in the news. Donald Trump Jr. mockingly shared several old tweets from the attorney general, in which he had denounced the president and expressed solidarity with victims of sexual assault; “This didn’t age well,” he wrote. Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, wrote in a tweet that Mr. Schneiderman had been “drunk with power.” By early Tuesday, the president had not commented on Mr. Schneiderman’s resignation.
Mr. Schneiderman’s fellow Democrats had also called on him to step aside, with Mr. Cuomo, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Mr. Heastie saying the attorney general was incapable of continuing in his office.
And people in both parties were quick to point out that some right-wing pundits who blasted the attorney general were also staunch defenders of President Trump, who has himself been accused of a slew of sexual abuse.
While Mr. Schneiderman’s resignation signals the probable end of a career that many had seen as gaining quick national prominence, the legal fallout is most likely only beginning.
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A spokesman for Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said Mr. Vance’s office had opened an investigation into the allegations in The New Yorker article. Mr. Schneiderman had, at the direction of Mr. Cuomo, himself been probing Mr. Vance’s office over questions about its handling of groping allegations against the film mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2015. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office did not immediately comment on whether that review would continue.
Separately, Mr. Cuomo also said on Monday that he would direct an “appropriate New York district attorney” to investigate the allegations. An administration official said Monday that the governor’s office wanted to avoid any conflict of interest and ensure the proper jurisdiction, given the attorney general’s review of Mr. Vance and the fact that some of the alleged abuse occurred on Long Island.
Mr. Schneiderman had been in contact with a criminal defense lawyer late Monday afternoon to advise him on his response to The New Yorker, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Later, an associate of Mr. Schneiderman was looking for a lawyer to represent him in connection with the criminal investigation, several other people with knowledge of the matter said.
Mr. Schneiderman has denied wrongdoing, describing the acts as part of consensual relationships.
Several women’s groups that had previously supported Mr. Schneiderman — he was known for being an outspoken advocate for women’s advancement, especially reproductive rights — expressed shock and sorrow. The National Institute for Reproductive Health, which had honored the attorney general at a May 1 luncheon, said in a statement that it was “appalled and horrified.” (By Tuesday, the group had removed Mr. Schneiderman from its list of honorees.) Sonia Ossorio, president of New York’s arm of the National Organization for Women, which endorsed Mr. Schneiderman in his 2010 and 2014 campaigns, said she was “in shock.”
“I’m just beside myself right now,” she said.
And political observers said the news would further erode public trust in Albany, which has been roiled repeatedly by corruption trials, sexual harassment scandals and other ethics controversies.
Douglas Muzzio, a political-science professor at Baruch College, said the allegations were “another blow” to our “trust in government officials and in the institutions of government itself.”
According to real estate records, the 2003 purchase of the house for $375,000 came at a steep discount of about $100,000 from what Ms. Lindsey had paid a year earlier — a shortfall picked up by her employer, the telecom giant SBC Oklahoma.
SBC, previously known as Southwestern Bell and later as AT&T, had been lobbying lawmakers in the early 2000s on a range of matters, including a deregulation bill that would allow it to raise rates and a separate regulatory effort to reopen a case involving allegations that it had bribed local officials a decade earlier. Mr. Pruitt sided with the company on both matters, state records show.
In 2005, the shell company — Capitol House L.L.C. — sold the property for $95,000 more than it had paid. While shell companies are legal, they often obscure the people who have an interest in them, and none of Mr. Pruitt’s financial disclosure filings in Oklahoma mentioned the company or the proceeds — a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules.
The Oklahoma City deal, which has not been previously reported, was one of several instances in which Mr. Pruitt appeared to have benefited from his relationships with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner while in state politics.
During his eight years as a Republican state senator, Mr. Pruitt also upgraded his family residence in suburban Tulsa from a small ranch-style home to a lakefront property in a gated community. In addition, he bought a sizable stake in a minor league baseball team, and took a second job at Mr. Wagner’s corporate law firm. Mr. Kelly’s bank, SpiritBank, would be there for much of it — providing financing for Mr. Pruitt’s Tulsa home and his stake in the baseball team, as well as the mortgage for the Oklahoma City house.
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Mr. Pruitt’s interactions with SBC also show that his blurring of lines with lobbyists has roots in his Oklahoma years. One of the issues at the E.P.A. that has gotten Mr. Pruitt in trouble with government watchdogs involved his renting a room in Washington for $50 a night from the wife of an energy lobbyist who has had business in front of the agency.
Lobbyists and others in Oklahoma state politics who encountered Mr. Pruitt recalled him as a tough competitor who always had his eye on a higher office. Some called him a “Boy Scout” who was stingy with his money, while others said privately that he had exuded a sense of entitlement — that rules did not apply to him.
David Walters, a former Oklahoma governor and Democrat, described Mr. Pruitt as someone who looked out for himself over the needs of constituents, especially during his years as attorney general.
“I was disappointed to find him operating in a hyperpartisan manner and seemingly representing corporate interests over Oklahoma citizens,” Mr. Walters said.
In response to questions submitted by The New York Times about Mr. Pruitt’s finances in Oklahoma, an E.P.A. spokeswoman said Mr. Pruitt’s business dealings with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner “were ethical” and his stake in the shell company “was a simple real estate investment.”
“Mr. Wagner and Mr. Kelly left high-profile positions in law and banking in Oklahoma, to serve in the administration,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “They are dedicated E.P.A. employees who have earned the respect and admiration of E.P.A. career employees across the country. They serve the country professionally, and transparently — and are committed to ensuring the programs they work on are successful.”
Rubbing Shoulders in Oklahoma City
The house on Northeast 17th Street in the historic Lincoln Terrace neighborhood here was built in 1928 and has a grand staircase and an arched doorway. Ms. Lindsey said one of the home’s attractions was that it looked out on the white dome of the State Capitol.
Mr. Pruitt stayed in the house for parts of 2004 and 2005, neighbors said. The residence put him within walking distance of his job — legislators worked only part of the year, mainly from February through May — and also near SBC Bricktown Ballpark, which was home to his baseball team, the RedHawks, now known as the Dodgers.
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Jim Dunlap, then a Republican leader in the State Senate, said he rented a room from Mr. Pruitt above the garage. He was under the impression that Mr. Pruitt had bought the home as an investment with a group of lawyers, he said.
“This was a place where you slept and had dinner,” Mr. Dunlap said. “It was all above board.”
Oklahoma campaign disclosures filed by Mr. Pruitt at the time made no mention of the home purchase or the rental agreement with Mr. Dunlap. Real estate records show that the transfer of ownership from Ms. Lindsey, the lobbyist, was rather complicated and involved multiple steps — none of them with any public reference to Mr. Pruitt, though the E.P.A. spokeswoman confirmed that he was one of five co-owners of the shell company.
When asked whether such a disclosure would be necessary, the executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, Ashley Kemp, referred The Times to a 2005 ethics manual. The rules required disclosing “every business or entity” in which an official held securities valued at $5,000 or more. Securities were defined to include “documents that represent a share in a company.”
The E.P.A. spokeswoman did not respond to questions about Mr. Pruitt’s disclosure filings in Oklahoma.
In November 2003, Ms. Lindsey signed the deed of the home over to a relocation company SBC had hired to handle her move and severance. She was reimbursed for close to $475,000, the amount she had paid for the house in 2002, as her contract required, she said.
The next day, the relocation company signed the property over to Jon Jiles, a health care executive who has a range of business interests and made contributions to Mr. Pruitt’s political campaigns. Records show no mortgage was involved, and Mr. Jiles paid $375,000 in cash.
That December, Mr. Wagner officially registered the Capitol House shell company with the Oklahoma authorities, and Mr. Jiles transferred the deed to the newly formed company. Mr. Jiles was listed as a manager of Capitol House, and Mr. Wagner as the registered agent.
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The following month, SpiritBank, where Mr. Kelly was chief executive, approved a mortgage in the amount of $420,000 in the name of Capital House L.L.C., another spelling of the entity.
Ms. Lindsey, the former lobbyist, said she had been focused on her impending move to Dallas, and had deferred the sale and other arrangements to the company’s relocation agent. She said she had known nothing about the involvement of the shell company and did not recall the final sale price. “The bottom line is — it is unusual to take a $100,000 loss on the house” after being on the market for just a few weeks, she said.
Asked about the drop in price, AT&T said in a statement that two independent firms appraised the house and that its average value came to $390,000. The valuation and sale were handled by the relocation business, the company added.
Mr. Jiles, in an email exchange, said he became involved because Mr. Wagner presented the house as “a good deal” and a convenient place to stay. He said he had no other business interactions with Mr. Pruitt.
“A cash transaction was most likely used because sellers will often sell for less if it’s a cash deal rather than a finance deal,” Mr. Jiles said. “And I was likely the one most able to do a cash deal at the time.”
In a statement, SpiritBank’s chief executive and president, Rick Harper, said the bank was legally prohibited from commenting on specific loans, but added, “SpiritBank is confident these loans were made in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”
The deal came at a time when SBC was a major employer in the state and a lobbying force in Oklahoma City.
As president of SBC Oklahoma and a registered lobbyist, Ms. Lindsey said she entertained lawmakers at her home. Moreover, SBC was known to court lawmakers with gifts, including tickets for Mr. Pruitt and others to watch Oklahoma State University play in the men’s basketball Final Four in 2004, The Oklahoman reported at the time.
“It gives us a chance to try to build a relationship with a lawmaker or an official,” a spokesman, Andy Morgan, told the newspaper. “Events like that offer a much more relaxed atmosphere.” He added: “We’re one of the state’s largest employers. It’s important that lawmakers are informed about issues affecting our company.”
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The prospect of another investigation into a longstanding bribery case had especially rattled SBC. In the early 1990s, an SBC lobbyist had been found guilty in federal court of paying a bribe to a public utilities commissioner to sway a vote that allowed the company to keep federal tax savings rather than disburse them to its ratepayers. But the vote itself was never overturned, and in 2003, another commissioner proposed reopening the investigation, claiming SBC still owed billions of dollars in refunds. The commissioner dropped his plans for an investigation after state legislators, and the attorney general at the time, Drew Edmondson, pushed back against the effort.
Later, when Mr. Pruitt became attorney general, he helped quash another attempt to revisit the SBC bribery case. In a March 2011 letter, Mr. Pruitt’s office warned that any commissioner who reopened the investigation could face prosecution for the misuse of public funds.
A Run of Good Fortune
Around the same time Mr. Pruitt invested in the house in Oklahoma City, he had finished a big business deal that involved Mr. Kelly, Mr. Wagner and a campaign donor who ran a large staffing company.
A baseball player in college, Mr. Pruitt bought an approximately 25 percent stake in the Oklahoma City RedHawks and became the team’s managing partner, making him a highly visible spokesman for the local team. Mr. Wagner also purchased a small stake, and Mr. Kelly’s bank provided financing for the deal, as first reported by The Intercept, which also disclosed the bank’s loans for one of Mr. Pruitt’s suburban Tulsa homes.
Mr. Pruitt’s main partner was Robert Funk, the business magnate who ran Express Services, the staffing firm. The sale price was not disclosed, but news reports suggested they paid over $11.5 million, with Mr. Funk carrying the biggest load.
Two months after the deal closed in November 2003, Mr. Funk attended a news conference where Mr. Pruitt announced legislation that would make it harder for Oklahoma workers to claim certain kinds of injury compensation, something that would benefit companies like Mr. Funk’s.
The relationship continued, with Mr. Funk serving as campaign chairman during Mr. Pruitt’s unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2006. Mr. Pruitt announced his candidacy outside the ballpark and cited his efforts on workers’ compensation among his achievements.
After losing the election, Mr. Pruitt took a break from public office, but continued his business relationship with Mr. Funk, proposing a $200 million town center on a parking lot next to the ballpark. The City Council balked at the project, but Mr. Pruitt’s ambitions and prominence grew.
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Back at home in Tulsa, Mr. Pruitt worked with Mr. Wagner’s firm, which had offices in SpiritBank’s building. As a corporate lawyer, Mr. Wagner frequently represented the bank, but also represented a used car dealership run by Mr. Pruitt’s family.
In 2004, Mr. Pruitt upgraded from a modest one-story home where his family had lived for over a decade to a $605,000 lakeside house a mile away. SpiritBank financed the home. The E.P.A. spokeswoman said Mr. Pruitt was able to afford the house “due to his sale of personal assets.”
In September 2010, as Mr. Pruitt was on his way to successfully winning his race for attorney general, he and Mr. Funk announced that they had sold the RedHawks. They did not disclose the price, but Forbes estimated its value a few years later at $21 million. SpiritBank, where Mr. Kelly was still chief executive, “played a key role in facilitating” the deal by providing acquisition financing, a news release said.
As a candidate for attorney general, Mr. Pruitt was not required to disclose the extent of his assets and how much money he made, but there were hints that his finances had improved since his early days as a state senator. Early into his term, he and his wife paid $1.18 million for a 5,518-square-foot Cotswold-style stone residence, featured in a book on Tulsa homes. It has five fireplaces, a library and a guest apartment.
The Attorney General Years
During his six years as attorney general, Mr. Pruitt blazed a path of spending that holds new meaning now that his E.P.A. expenditures are the subject of investigations and growing political outrage.
Mr. Pruitt moved the attorney general’s outpost in Tulsa to a prime suite in the Bank of America tower, an almost $12,000-a-month space that quadrupled the annual rent. He required his staff to regularly drive him between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, according to several people familiar with his time as attorney general.
And he channeled state contracts to Mr. Wagner’s law firm, which was already doing business with the state.
From 2011 to 2017, state records show, the attorney general’s office awarded more than $600,000 in contracts to Mr. Wagner’s Tulsa-based law firm, Latham, Wagner Steele & Lehman — greatly increasing work with the firm, which had gotten a total of about $100,000 over the four years before that. These contracts are not competitively bid. The additional expenditures reflected an approach, contentious even among some fellow Republicans, to hire private lawyers for state business, often for cases challenging federal regulations.
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“He said that these people had special expertise that his agency didn’t have,” said Paul Wesselhoft, a Republican former state representative. “He has an army of lawyers with expertise. He didn’t have to spend that extra tax money to hire another law firm. It didn’t seem frugal.”
Mr. Pruitt used the Bank of America building as a base for his growing political ambitions. Oklahoma Strong Leadership, a political action committee he formed in 2015 to help finance fellow Republicans’ campaigns, operated out of the building. The group shared a suite with another PAC tied to Mr. Pruitt, Liberty 2.0, as well as his campaign office.
WASHINGTON — President Trump angrily unloaded on his top law enforcement officials on Monday night, complaining that the F.B.I. “broke into” the office of Michael D. Cohen, his personal lawyer, and assailing the early-morning raids as a “disgraceful situation” and an “attack on our country in a true sense.”
The president repeatedly said the raids were part of a “witch hunt” against him that has been conducted since he took office, and he mused about the possibility that he might soon fire Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia inquiry.
“We’ll see what may happen,” Mr. Trump said as he began a meeting with senior military officials to discuss responses to a chemical attack in Syria. “Many people have said you should fire him.”
The president railed against Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, for recusing himself in the Russia investigation, and he blasted the F.B.I. for failing to investigate Hillary Clinton “where there are crimes.” He also lashed out at Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who is overseeing the Russia investigation.
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Mr. Trump delivered the emotional tirade hours after federal officials raided Mr. Cohen’s office and hotel room, seizing business records, emails and documents, including information related to payments that Mr. Cohen made to a pornographic film actress.
The raids were in part the result of a referral to federal officials by Mr. Mueller. Mr. Trump called Mr. Mueller’s team “the most biased group of people” and said that it contains mostly Democrats and some Republicans who worked for President Barack Obama.
Mr. Mueller’s original assignment from Mr. Rosenstein was to look into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any links to Trump campaign officials, with the ambiguous addition of “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
In a response this week, Mr. Mueller’s team insisted that Mr. Manafort’s Ukraine dealings, in light of his campaign role, were relevant to investigating links between Russia and the Trump campaign. The team also argued that Mr. Manafort had no right to challenge Mr. Mueller’s jurisdiction. (It did not, however, invoke the widespread belief that Mr. Mueller is using the Ukraine charges to pressure Mr. Manafort to divulge what he knows about 2016 events as part of a plea bargain.)
But members of Mr. Mueller’s team also backed up those arguments with a striking move: They emphatically pointed to their subordination to Mr. Rosenstein — the acting attorney general for the Russia investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recused from it.
While Mr. Rosenstein has testified that he knows about and approves of what Mr. Mueller is doing, the filing went into significant new detail, including disclosing that Mr. Rosenstein wrote a memo on Aug. 2 blessing the idea that Mr. Mueller’s jurisdiction extends to Mr. Manafort’s Ukraine-linked dealings.
“The acting attorney general appointed the special counsel, defined his jurisdiction, understands the scope of his investigation and has specifically confirmed that the allegations that form the basis” of Mr. Manafort’s prosecution are within Mr. Mueller’s purview, the filing said. “In these circumstances, no serious question of political accountability can be raised.”
Mr. Mueller’s assertive use of a Trump appointee’s control over his investigation as a shield against Mr. Manafort’s attack was a remarkable moment in the history of recurring tensions over the independence of investigations touching on high-level executive branch officials.
After the Watergate scandal, in which President Richard M. Nixon forced the Justice Department to fire the prosecutor investigating him, Congress enacted a law permitting the appointment of an “independent” counsel who would report to a panel of judges rather than to a presidential appointee.
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Although the Supreme Court upheld Congress’s constitutional power to make that arrangement in a 1988 case, both political parties came to see it as a bad idea. In 1999, when the independent counsel statute expired, lawmakers did not renew it.
As a replacement, the Justice Department created a regulation to permit the appointment, from outside the government, of a special counsel who would exercise day-to-day independence but remain subject to control by the attorney general, who could veto decisions like whether to file charges or expand jurisdiction. At the same time, it limited the attorney general’s power to fire a special counsel to cases of misconduct.
But that regulation has rarely been used. The most high-profile case arising during George W. Bush’s administration — the appointment in 2003 of Patrick J. Fitzgerald to investigate who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, a C.I.A. official — bypassed its envisioned arrangement.
Mr. Fitzgerald, then a United States attorney in Chicago, was appointed as a special counsel by James B. Comey, then the deputy attorney general, after Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation. Mr. Comey also delegated his supervisory powers as the acting attorney general to Mr. Fitzgerald, permitting the prosecutor to take major investigative steps “independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department.”
By contrast, after Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey in May from his subsequent job as F.B.I. director and Mr. Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller as special counsel, Mr. Rosenstein invoked the regulation — meaning he retained supervisory control.
At the time, some Democrats greeted that arrangement with suspicion. They worried that Mr. Rosenstein — a Trump appointee who had helped with Mr. Trump’s firing of Mr. Comey by writing a memo criticizing Mr. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation — would keep Mr. Mueller on a short leash.
During a June hearing, for example, Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, pressed Mr. Rosenstein to instead create a more independent special counsel who could oversee himself, like Mr. Fitzgerald.
“Are you willing to do as has been done before?” she demanded.
Mr. Rosenstein demurred. While noting that Mr. Bush could have fired Mr. Fitzgerald for any reason — so working under the regulation gave Mr. Mueller greater protection — he also said there were other complicated legal issues that led him to his decision. (One of the complexities may have been that Mr. Mueller was not a current Justice Department employee at the time of his appointment, unlike Mr. Fitzgerald in 2003, so Mr. Mueller most likely could not have been delegated attorney general supervisory powers, Mr. Katyal said.)
The anxieties of that period make it all the more striking that, 10 months later, Mr. Mueller’s team is stressing his subordination to Mr. Rosenstein to repel Mr. Manafort’s attack.
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Still, several specialists cautioned that Mr. Mueller’s subordination could revert to a weakness if Mr. Trump were to fire Mr. Sessions or Mr. Rosenstein, putting someone else in charge of the special counsel.
Against that backdrop, Julie O’Sullivan, a Georgetown University law professor and a former federal prosecutor, worried about the lengths the filing went to in detailing Mr. Rosenstein’s approval for Mr. Mueller’s actions.
“Mueller’s lack of independence was viewed as a real problem, but now it’s a response to any attack on the indictment,” she said. “I do wonder, though, if he hasn’t put Rosenstein in additional jeopardy.”
The Chicago Police Department has a history of corruption, brutality and torture dating back decades. But the pressure for reform has ratcheted up since 2015, when a police video withheld by the city for more than a year showed an officer executing a black teenager named Laquan McDonald on the street — contradicting the official story that the young man had been killed while menacing officers with a knife. The officer was finally charged with murder — but only after a judge ordered the video released.
A Justice Department investigation has since found that the police routinely used excessive force against black and Latino citizens. The effort to remake this deeply troubled agency entered a new phase last week when a coalition of community groups — one representing families of people killed by police officers — was granted a formal role in a process that could soon produce a sweeping, court-enforceable police reform agreement. By including community groups, the city and the Illinois State attorney general — which have primary responsibility for forging the agreement — might overcome deeply held public skepticism about the department’s ability to change.
The Justice Department uncovered a number of cases, like the McDonald shooting, where the department accepted police versions of events that were later undercut by video. The investigation found that the city often failed to investigate cases.
If there was ever a police department that warranted federal supervision through a court-enforceable consent decree, this was it. Mayor Rahm Emanuel initially embraced that idea, but equivocated after the Trump administration made clear that it had no appetite for such agreements. Three different parties — two coalitions of community groups and the state attorney general, Lisa Madigan — sued the city, urging it to accept court oversight. As Ms. Madigan pointed out, Chicago had never had real police reform because it had never been mandated by an enforceable order.
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The city had little choice but to embrace the lawsuit. The two parties are working out details about the use of force, training, supervision, accountability and other areas.