Palm Beach prosecutor: No, Ron DeSantis can’t block Trump's extradition to New York

Florida governor's power to block extradition "is really nonexistent," said State Attorney Dave Aronberg

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published May 17, 2021 5:15PM (EDT)

Governor Ron DeSantis (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)
Governor Ron DeSantis (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

Palm Beach County's top prosecutor said Sunday that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could delay — but not prevent — former President Donald Trump's extradition if he is indicted in New York.

Officials in Palm Beach, where Trump currently lives in his Mar-a-Lago resort, have "actively prepared" for the possibility that he will be indicted in Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's years-long criminal investigation, Politico reported last week, but they've raised concerns that an "obscure clause" in state law could allow DeSantis to block any possible extradition.

Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, said that his office has not been involved in those conversations.

"I can clear that up because I'm the state attorney here in Palm Beach County, and we have not had conversations with prosecutors in New York about this," he told CNN on Sunday. "The story that you saw was informal conversations with the clerk of courts and other local officials in case an indictment happens."

Joe Abruzzo, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court clerk, told Politico that Florida law "leaves room for interpretation that the governor has the power to order a review and potentially not comply with the extradition notice." The New Yorker's Jane Mayer also reported in March that Trump's social circle in Palm Beach has speculated that DeSantis "might not honor an extradition request from New York if a bench warrant were issued for Trump's arrest."

But Aronberg pushed back on that argument.

"So that's a conversation we're having: What is the governor's power? And the governor's power to stop an extradition is really nonexistent," he told CNN. "He can try to delay it, he can send it to a committee and do research about it, but his role is really ministerial, and ultimately the state of New York can go to court and get an order to extradite the former president. But DeSantis could delay matters."

CNN's Jim Acosta asked if Aronberg would fight such a delay by the governor.

"We would be part of it. But it's really ministerial," Aronberg replied, adding, "But, then again, I thought that when Congress counted the votes on Jan. 6, that would be ministerial too — and look what happened then. So you have to be prepared for anything."

It may not come to that if a warrant is issued while Trump is out of state. Trump is expected to spend the summer at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Although New Jersey has an extradition law similar to Florida's, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is not likely to intervene on Trump's behalf after accusing him of "inciting insurrection" at the Capitol earlier this year.

Trump's attorneys could also negotiate a voluntary surrender agreement with prosecutors, if it comes to that.

It's unclear how far along Vance's investigation into Trump and his businesses has gotten, but Mayer of the New Yorker reported in March that it is expected to wrap up before Vance's term concludes at the end of this year. Vance finally obtained years of Trump's tax returns earlier this year after a lengthy Supreme Court battle. He has since hired prominent outside attorney Mark Pomerantz to help with the investigation and has brought on an outside forensic accounting firm.

Investigators are reportedly looking into whether Trump or his businesses have committed loan, bank or insurance fraud, have interviewed former Trump fixer and Trump Organization vice president Michael Cohen more than a half-dozen times.

Prosecutors in recent weeks have turned their focus to gaining the cooperation of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's longtime financial chief. Prosecutors last month obtained a trove of documents from his former daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, related to Allen Weisselberg's finances and those of his son Barry, also a Trump Organization employee. The Washington Post reported that the documents "show an array of payments and perks" from the company, raising questions about whether "proper taxes were paid" on that income. Barry Weisselberg previously said during his 2018 divorce deposition that he was not sure whether he paid taxes on the Trump-owned apartment where he lived rent-free and could not answer questions about income discrepancies reported to the IRS.

Shortly after that report, Vance's office subpoenaed the private school where Allen Weisselberg and Trump himself had paid more than $500,000 for Weisselberg's grandchildren's tuition, according to The Wall Street Journal. Jennifer Weisselberg told the outlet that she understood the tuition payments to be part of her then-husband's compensation package from the Trump Organization.

Prosecutors have also asked the Trump Organization to turn over any documents related to any benefits Trump or the company provided to any other employees, according to The New York Times.

"Prosecutors often seek the cooperation of someone possibly involved in a crime to obtain confidential information and provide a potential road map to records or documents," The Wall Street Journal reported. "Typically, prosecutors offer a potential defendant leniency in exchange for their help. Putting pressure on a possible defendant's family is one way to encourage cooperation."

Sources close to Weisselberg told the outlet that he is "faithful to the Trump Organization" and is close to Trump. But Weisselberg previously cooperated with the 2017 New York attorney general's investigation that forced the Trump Foundation to shut down and the 2018 federal investigation into the hush money payments Cohen paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels during Trump's 2016 campaign.

"Trump doesn't care about Allen," Jennifer Weisselberg told Air Mail last month, "but Allen knows every bad thing he ever did."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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