The tangle of legal cases surrounding Donald Trump
Besides the Stormy Daniels case that has retaken center stage, the former president faces investigations and lawsuits over his finances, his responsibility for the January 6 Capitol attack, election law violations and his handling of classified government documents, among others
Suspicions that a $130,000 payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels in 2016 may have violated election finance laws have made Donald Trump the first former president to be indicted in U.S. history. But the real estate tycoon and current Republican aspirant to the White House in 2024 faces a whole tangle of other cases, criminal and civil, that can complicate his life and his electoral candidacy. Several of them are already scheduled to be resolved this year.
The most serious legal cases focus on his finances, election issues, the January 6 insurrection, and his handling of classified government documents after leaving the White House. Other civil suits also include an accusation of rape.
In August 2002, FBI agents armed with a search warrant raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. They took 33 boxes of classified material dating from his presidency, including some with clearly marked “Top Secret” classifications. The raid ended months of official requests to the politician’s lawyers about the whereabouts of thousands of government documents.
U.S. law requires presidents and other high-ranking government officials to preserve all official documents and deliver them to the National Archives once they leave office. However, Trump failed to turn over a copious cache of documents. After several subpoenas, representatives for the former president turned over 15 boxes of documents early last year. But the Mar-a-Lago search proved that many were still in Trump’s hands.
The Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor, Jack Smith, to investigate the case and try to clarify whether Trump purposely kept all the material and whether he misled his own lawyers when they claimed it had all been returned.
The Justice Department’s investigation appears to have moved forward in recent days. A Washington judge ruled two weeks ago that the evidence found by Smith is serious enough to lift the principle of attorney-client privilege. That is something U.S. law only allows in the case of a substantiated suspicion that such a relationship is being used to commit a crime: in Trump’s case, it would be obstruction of justice.
Trump’s lawyers appealed the judge’s decision, but an appeals court did not block it. Last week Evan Corcoran, legal counsel for the former president, testified before a grand jury in Washington, D.C.
Election law cases
A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump over a case stemming from hush money paid to Daniels by his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. The allegation is that election campaign funds were misused and never recorded in official financial accounts, something the former president disputes.
But, in addition, Trump has another case pending in Georgia related to election law violations. Democratic prosecutor Fani Willis is investigating whether Trump tried to change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in that state. The investigation stems from a call made by Trump in January 2020 to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffesperger (R), pressuring him to “find” enough votes in the state to erase Biden’s lead. The investigation later widened to include other calls by Trump and his associates to Georgia officials after the election and baseless allegations of voter fraud made to Georgia legislators.
The investigation deposed around 100 people and has been submitted to a special grand jury. Willis must now decide whether to refer the case to a regular grand jury for criminal charges. In January, she said a decision was “imminent” and that making her report public could jeopardize “future defendants.”
The assault on Capitol Hill
The congressional commission examining the January 6, 2021, mob attack on the Capitol Building concluded its hearings in December 2022 after drawing the most complete picture of those events. The January 6 commission’s report condemned Trump’s role in the violence that claimed several lives and the president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results to hold onto power.
Before the commission was dissolved after a new Congress was seated in January 2023 with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, it recommended that the Justice Department formally indict Trump on four criminal charges: obstruction of an official proceeding; conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to make false statements; and aiding an insurrection.
The Justice Department opened its own investigation and appointed a special prosecutor, Jack Smith, who has since subpoenaed Trump’s daughter Ivanka; her husband, Jared Kushner; and Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence. Smith has not yet indicated whether the Justice Department will eventually indict the former president.
The primary focus of the Justice Department investigation is the Trump rally that preceded the riots, where the president urged his supporters to “fight like hell.” It is also examining Trump’s apparent indifference and inaction while his supporters violently forced their way into the Capitol Building to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s election victory.
In addition to the criminal charges that could be levied against Trump for the January 6 events, several Democratic lawmakers and two Capitol Police officers have filed civil suits against the former president for “incitement” to riot. The lawsuit is based on Trump’s speech at the January 6 rally urging supporters to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” and his outraged tweets about Pence not having the “courage” to protect the country. Trump and his lawyers claim his words were protected by the First Amendment constitutional right to free speech. Moreover, his team claims that, as head of state, he enjoyed immunity at the time.
New York Attorney General Laetitia James has conducted a three-year investigation into decades of business dealings related to Trump’s real estate and golf course empire, alleging a pattern of financial fraud. James claims that the Trump organization inflated the value of properties to obtain large loans with the best terms and then reported much lower values on tax returns to lower the tax liability.
According to James, Trump-owned businesses defrauded the government of $250 million in taxes owed. If convicted of these charges, Trump and his three children who worked in the organization would be barred from running a company in New York. The hearing is scheduled to begin on October 2.
Columnist Jean Carroll has accused Trump of rape, defamation, abuse and emotional distress. According to the writer, Trump raped her in a luxury Manhattan department store bathroom in the 1990s. The former president denied it and said, “she’s not my type.” He also denied even knowing Carroll, although a photo from that time shows them together. This civil suit could be heard in court next month.
Catherine McCoy has accused Trump, his company and his children of a scam related to his Celebrity Apprentice reality show in the early 2000s. McCoy alleges Trump pocketed $8.8 million while she and others lost thousands. A hearing could begin late next year.
Lastly, Michael Cohen claims his former boss owes him $20 million for his conviction and imprisonment for lying to Congress and for financial crimes committed while protecting Trump. Although a court dismissed the lawsuit, the former lawyer plans to appeal.
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