October 16, 2017 |
The recent revelation in the media that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office investigated Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. for fraud in the sale of condominium/hotel hybrids at Trump SoHo, but declined to file charges, provides an excellent opportunity for the public to step back and remember what exactly the role of a prosecutor is.
In the Trump SoHo story and in its wake, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance has been criticized for a number of perceived sins. He was said to have accepted a large campaign contribution from a lawyer for the Trump children as a reward for having declined to proceed with the case. He was accused of turning a blind eye to obvious fraud by rich white people.
He also was cited for “overruling” “his own prosecutors.”
And to prove that any random set of stars can become a constellation, news outlets have since drawn a connection between the Trump SoHo case and the fact that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was not charged with a misdemeanor in 2015 for groping a model, also because of a lawyer’s campaign contribution.
Aren’t these critiques right? Shouldn’t prosecutors be held to the highest ethical standards? Of course they should, but we need to understand what those standards, mostly developed over more than a century, are. Outrage is easy; principles are hard.