Supporting Cy: The Price of (Non)Prosecution

For reasons that aren’t easily explained, people fail to put together two immutable facts: when a person runs for public office, that person needs to raise money for the campaign. When people donate to a campaign for a person running for public office, they may have a less than aspirational reason for doing so.

The District Attorney of New York County, Cyrus Vance, Jr., won the post in a hotly contested election after his predecessor, Robert Morgenthau, retired. Elections cost money.

The New Yorker reports that DANY was about to prosecute Ivanka and Donald, Jr. until a meeting with Trump’s long-time lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, who has conclusively demonstrated his lack of skill in criminal defense.

On May 16, 2012, Kasowitz visited Vance’s office at One Hogan Place, in downtown Manhattan—a faded edifice made famous by the television show “Law & Order.” Dan Alonso, the Chief Assistant District Attorney, and Adam Kaufmann, the chief of the investigative division, were also at the meeting, but no one from the Major Economic Crimes Bureau attended. Kasowitz did not introduce any new arguments or facts during his session. He simply repeated the arguments that the other defense lawyers had been making for months.

To be clear, one doesn’t get a meet-up with Cy for the asking. Kasowitz did. Three months later, Cy overruled his staff and the case was tossed. Kasowitz bragged about his mad skillz, because he’s gotta be him, but there was one additional detail that occurred before Cy sat with Kasowitz.

But, in 2012, Kasowitz donated twenty-five thousand dollars to the reëlection campaign of the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Jr., making Kasowitz one of Vance’s largest donors.

After the meeting, Cy returned the donation.

Kasowitz “had no influence, and his contributions had no influence whatsoever on my decision-making in the case,” Vance said.

A virtuous and selfless political act.

But, less than six months after the D.A.’s office dropped the case, Kasowitz made an even larger donation to Vance’s campaign, and helped raise more from others—eventually, a total of more than fifty thousand dollars.

A little less virtuous and selfless?

After being asked about these donations as part of the reporting for this article—more than four years after the fact—Vance said he now plans to give back Kasowitz’s second contribution, too. “I don’t want the money to be a millstone around anybody’s neck, including the office’s,” he said.

Of course, a $50 grand millstone isn’t around the office’s neck. It’s around Cy’s. But don’t fear, as he’s got a strong back, having carried other heavy weights.

Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer delivered $10,000 to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. in 2015, in the months after Vance’s office decided not to prosecute Weinstein over sexual assault allegations, according to an International Business Times review of campaign finance documents. That contribution from attorney David Boies — who previously headlined a fundraiser for Vance — was a fraction of the more than $182,000 that Boies, his son and his law partners have delivered to the Democrat during his political career.

I bet Boies could get a meeting with Cy anytime he wants. Two major-league legal rock stars, chatting each other up about how hard it is to be a lawyer these days. But then, why would Boies care enough about who sits in Morgy’s old chair to carry such heavy suitcases through the side door of 1 Hogan Place? And it’s hard to imagine Kasowitz even knew where the door was, having nothing to do with the office. Except for that Ivanka and Donald, Jr. thing.

None of this proves that Cy Vance exercised his discretion as District Attorney because of these campaign contributions. Cy isn’t exactly a poor schmuck, desperate for cash so he won’t miss a meal on the campaign trail. But $182,000? That’s a lot of loot. Does Boies really love Cy that much? Is he that concerned about Cy’s re-election?

In the 2013 election, Cy beat Republican Peter Gleason 84.3% over 15.7%. It was not a nail-biter, like his 2009 campaign against Leslie Crocker Snyder. By then, Cy owned the position. It’s not as if he desperately needed a war chest to keep the job. To the extent that Cy needed to remain in the good graces of the City’s power brokers, he had an $808 million slush fund to spread around. No one worried about Cy dipping a pinky into the green, as he was the sort of old-school guy who could be trusted. As I said, he’s no poor schmuck.

But more than the unseemliness of the inexplicable Kasowitz contribution was the fact that daddy’s lawyer was involved at all.

Peirce Moser, an Assistant District Attorney known for his methodical, comprehensive investigations, soon took over the case. “He is not a cowboy,” Marc Scholl, who spent almost forty years as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office, said. “He is certainly not out to make headlines for himself or to advance himself.”

On the other side, the Trumps’ defense team included Gary Naftalis and David Frankel, of the law firm Kramer Levin; Paul Grand represented one of the real-estate brokers who had worked with the Trumps.

These are all solid, excellent, serious lawyers. As far as knowledge and skill goes, Kasowitz can’t carry Gary Naftalis’ briefcase. And the idea that Cy would overrule Moser, as if he lacked sufficiently sound judgment to know what case to indict, seems ludicrous. There were shifts in the case, as “victims” were paid off upon condition they refused to cooperate with the prosecution. And the defense had some decent arguments, that this was common, and lawful, puffery and, at worst, a civil dispute over money rather than a crime.

But then comes Cy’s shrug:

In early May, 2012, Kasowitz asked to see the District Attorney. Vance told us that such meetings aren’t unusual—but his investigations chief at the time, Kaufmann, characterized Kasowitz’s request as “a little premature.” The Trump lawyer was going over the heads of everyone who had been working on the case.

Meetings like this are unusual, as is ignoring the chain of command. At least, for lawyers who aren’t campaign contributors. But elections take money, even if Cy couldn’t lose if he tried, and who is going to make those contributions except the lawyers for wealthy potential criminal defendants?

5 thoughts on “Supporting Cy: The Price of (Non)Prosecution

  1. Jake

    Hmm, if only someone with the legal knowledge to make a biting but purely satirical list of menu items with costs in ‘Cy’s Restaurant’ knew somebody else with the mad photoshop skillz to make it look like a real menu…

      1. Jake

        If a $10,000 donation is all it takes to get favorable treatment from a criminal prosecutor, then I smell a business opportunity. We could offer to finance, for those who have low cash flow, with payday loan interest rates. Of course, one then must wonder what we need criminal lawyers for at all.

        Fortunately for me, I’m personal friends with the local county prosecutor. And she’s kind enough to take my calls, even when all I want is to complain about the damn Kardashian kids waking me up with their stupid fireworks.

  2. John Barlycorn.

    100K cases a year makes Cyrus a busy boy?

    You should call this guy up next time around and suggest vanilla bar hopping tours on tursdays around lower Manhattan in a double decker bus with an open deck.

    Anyone who can glide a paper airplane campaign check from above the 30th floor onto the upper deck gets a signed copy of their own to bottom of the pile case file.

    Lunches are so fucking boring and personal anyway and no way to see sights in Soho.

    I am gonna send him a mini disco ball for the rearview mirror seeing as how he might have to polish up his disco moves.

    He is gonna be so great on the bus microphone after a few beers that people from Montana are gonna show up and give up their guns just to see him sweat.

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