The new AG itching to take on Trump
The man aspiring to be the new face of the resistance is a practicing Sikh who likes to call attention to his turban and happens to have jurisdiction over 20 of President Donald Trump’s properties, including Bedminster.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal says he sees an opening in the continuing wake left by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s surprise resignation, and he’s ready to take it.
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“If with him not being there, there’s a gap, we’ll fill that gap to make sure there’s no backsliding,” said Grewal, ticking off a list of active or potential lawsuits against the administration over immigrants, the stripping down of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, threats to the state coastline, the proposed citizenship question on the Census and more.
In four months on the job, Grewal has joined or started 30 actions against the federal government, from debt collection to carbon emissions. He has embedded himself with the Democratic attorneys general who’ve banded together since last year to take on Trump, and which Schneiderman had been a national leader on.
Last week, Grewal added another, writing to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos saying that if she wasn’t going to investigate fraud at for-profit colleges, he would.
Then there’s the other aspect of what Schneiderman had been doing — talking with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about de-conflicting investigations that the New York office could pursue. The overlap stemmed from how much of the president’s business and campaign had been based at Trump Tower, and the number of financial transactions that pass through New York.
Grewal’s jurisdiction doesn’t cover the banking transactions, and he’d only be able to prosecute crimes if they happened in his state. But Trump has spent many key moments during the transition and most weekends last spring and summer at his Bedminster residence in north Jersey. Those include a visit last May when Trump and his team plotted to fire FBI Director James Comey and complained in an unreleased letter that he wouldn’t publicly exonerate the president.
“Much like Attorney General Schneiderman, we have more contact with properties in New Jersey, and if there’s any indication of any criminal activity, or anything like that, we’ll use the powers at our disposal to investigate,” Grewal said. “We have a lot of tools at our disposal.”
He declined to answer specifics, including whether he’s been in touch with Mueller’s team.
“There’s a nexus between the administration and New Jersey,” he said, “beyond that, I’m not going to touch on that issue at this point.”
Grewal also wouldn’t discuss whether he’ll pursue statute changes. Schneiderman had been pushing the Albany legislature to change the law to enable state-level charges against people who might be pardoned out of federal charges by the president.
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment on whether there have been communications with Grewal or his office over de-conflicting investigations of backstopping pardons. Most legal experts, though, have trouble seeing how a state-level obstruction of justice charge would work, if it comes to that.
Unlike in most states, New Jersey’s attorney general is appointed, not elected, and Grewal says that’s a relief. He said he has no political ambitions to drive him to the kind of performing for the cameras that Schneiderman often did. But he is a committed Democrat, and he does think in terms of politics.
“We organize. We vote. We push relentlessly for progress — that, after all, is the beauty of America,” he said, in a speech to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies last week in Washington.
And he loves the public role he now has as the highest ranking Sikh in the history of American government.
Based on his reputation as a lawyer but also as a conscious statement about diversity in response to Trump, Grewal was plucked by new Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy out of a county prosecutor job he’d been appointed to by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. He had spent years building his reputation as a lawyer at a firm in Washington, in New York’s Eastern District U.S. attorney’s office and then in the New Jersey U.S. attorney’s office.