The FBI’s August 8 search of Donald Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, Florida for classified government documents is the latest episode of the investigations into potential wrongdoing by the former president that may lead to legal action. Two major investigations have weakened Trump even as he drops increasingly frequent hints about running for president in 2024.
One is Congress’s investigation into the January 6 attack on the US Capitol instigated by Trump’s claims of election fraud and attempts to reverse the November 2020 election results. The other is an investigation initiated in 2019 by New York prosecutors into potential financial fraud and tax evasion by The Trump Organization and its officers.
And there are other proceedings against Trump and his businesses, all of which constitute the most extensive legal offensive ever mounted against a former US president.
Department of Justice: criminal liability
The US Department of Justice is investigating alleged collusion by Trump with the violent mob of supporters that attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, which the congressional investigative committee says was an attempted coup. Their investigation is focusing on Trump’s speech at the rally that preceded the riot, and his inaction and complacency while the attack unfolded. Also under scrutiny are his efforts to pressure the Justice Department and some state officials to challenge the election results without any evidence of irregularities.
The big question is whether this investigation will result in an indictment. No president in US history has ever been indicted, not even Richard Nixon for the Watergate scandal or Bill Clinton for lying under oath before a grand jury about his relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.
Select Committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol: political liability
Comprised of seven Democratic and two Republican legislators, the Select Committee is not conducting a criminal investigation, yet its hearings have yielded the most complete account of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results and his role in the attack on the Capitol. The Select Committee’s findings may lead to legal action by the Justice Department.
The Select Committee continues to hear new testimony and public hearings may resume after Congress’s August recess. The Justice Department has already charged two former Trump advisors with contempt of Congress for ignoring subpoenas: Steve Bannon was convicted in late July of obstruction of justice, and Peter Navarro’s trial is scheduled for November. The Select Committee doesn’t have the authority to indict Trump. That is the purview of the Justice Department, which is following the investigation closely and has requested copies of deposition transcripts and other documents.
Attempted vote-rigging in Georgia
Trump pressured Georgia’s (USA) Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to “find” enough votes to reverse Biden’s victory in that state. He also called three other top Georgia officials and pressured them to identify unfounded election irregularities and come up with a list of fake voters in the state that would enable him to challenge the election results. US Fani Willis, a Georgia district attorney, is investigating Trump’s post-election interference, and has subpoenaed several Republican senators. She is also investigating the demands Trump made to state officials and the potential involvement of more than 100 people.
The Trump Organization’s finances: civil and criminal liability
The death of ex-wife Ivana in July prevented the former president and his children, Don Jr. and Ivanka, from being deposed by New York attorney general Letitia James, who succeeded in obligating Trump and his children to testify despite their vehement opposition. The Manhattan district attorney and the New York attorney general are both investigating Trump’s business practices, particularly the allegations that he misrepresented the value of his assets to lenders and the Internal Revenue Service to obtain preferential loan terms and tax breaks.
The investigation conducted by James could result in civil liabilities for The Trump Organization, while Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg is pursuing a criminal case. Because all the prosecutors are Democrats, Trump considers the cases to be politically motivated and calls them a “witch hunt.” The criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney has lost steam after two of the lawyers involved resigned due to doubts about having enough evidence to file charges, a decision that is ultimately up to Bragg. The civil case being pursued by James is moving forward.
The Manhattan district attorney has already indicted Allen Weisselberg, the longtime chief financial officer for The Trump Organization, who may go to trial for tax evasion by the end of
the year. The case pursued by James could result in financial or other non-criminal penalties. In April, a judge held Trump in contempt of court for failing to turn over records required by the New York attorney general and ordered him to pay a US$10,000 fine for every day he failed to comply. The penalties were lifted after Trump paid US$110,000 and testified under oath that he did not have the records. Trump is scheduled to give sworn testimony on August 8 in the New York attorney general’s civil probe.
A minor case involving alleged tax fraud at the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester, an affluent county north of New York City, is being investigated by district attorney Miriam Rocah. The Trump Organization and the town of Ossining where the golf club is located have disputed property tax assessments for years.