New York state’s attorney general, to date one of the most vocal antagonists of President Donald Trump, is preparing to escalate his office’s litigation against the president’s administration.
Democrat Eric Schneiderman has hired one of the top public-corruption prosecutors under former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to focus specifically on issues involving the Trump administration. Howard Master, who prosecuted the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s case against longtime New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver , is expected to work on both continuing and new White House-related matters for the attorney general, as well as on high-level public-corruption cases.
The hiring of Mr. Master, whose title will be senior enforcement counsel, signals Mr. Schneiderman’s continued intent to take on the Republican president.
Eric Soufer, a spokesman for Mr. Schneiderman, confirmed Mr. Master’s hiring and said he “will be working on a wide range of civil and criminal investigations and enforcement matters, including public corruption, complex civil litigation” and potentially litigation against the Trump administration.
A spokeswoman for the White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In 2013, Mr. Schneiderman brought a fraud lawsuit against Mr. Trump and his real-estate school, Trump University. That case has now been settled.
Since Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Schneiderman has been one of a group of Democratic attorneys general who have directed both legal challenges and critical rhetoric toward the president on matters including his executive orders on immigration and refugees, climate change and threats to deport millions of illegal immigrants, among other issues.
Last week, Mr. Schneiderman’s office joined Washington state’s lawsuit against the Trump administration’s revised immigration order. “The Trump administration’s continued intent to discriminate against Muslims is clear,” Mr. Schneiderman said at the time, “and it undermines New York’s families, institutions and economy.”
In addition to challenging White House policies in court, Mr. Schneiderman’s office is expected to explore whether it has any standing to pursue cases that hinge on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, according to people familiar with the matter. That provision prohibits federal officeholders from accepting payments from foreign governments.
In January, a government watchdog group represented by a team of constitutional scholars and ethics experts filed a suit alleging Mr. Trump is violating the Constitution by maintaining ownership of businesses that accept payments from foreign governments.
Mr. Trump called the suit “totally without merit,” and his lawyers have said they don’t believe that accepting payments from foreign government officials violates the Constitution.
State attorneys general have wide berth to challenge the legality of federal policies and laws that impact their states and citizens. In the lawsuit against the revised immigration executive order, for example, the complaint alleges that the policy harms New York’s health-care institutions, its tourism industry and its colleges and universities’ ability to recruit international students.
The New York attorney general also has broad powers in prosecuting financial fraud through the Martin Act, a state law that has more lenient requirements than on the federal level.
While an assistant U.S. attorney and, most recently, the deputy chief of the office’s criminal division, Mr. Master handled some of the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s biggest public-corruption and health-care fraud prosecutions over his near-decade in the office.
In addition to the case against Mr. Silver, who was convicted in 2015 of honest-services fraud, extortion and money laundering, Mr. Master prosecuted one of the largest New York City corruption cases in recent history, the CityTime fraud and kickback scheme. In that case, three men were convicted of having exploited the government’s contracting procedures.
Another of Mr. Master’s cases, an alleged multimillion-dollar fraud and kickback system involving Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and mail-order pharmacy Philidor Rx Services LLC, is headed toward trial.
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