Up until four months ago, no former or sitting U.S. president had been indicted in the country’s history. That changed in April, when Donald Trump was indicted in New York for falsifying business records in the Stormy Daniels case. Since then, the former president has been indicted in three more criminal cases, from election subversion to withholding top secret documents. Each case relates to his presidency. In addition to the four indictments, Trump in May was also found liable in a civil case for sexually abusing and defaming advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996.
The four criminal cases are set to go on trial next year, which is likely to impact Trump’s presidential campaign, if he secures the Republican Party’s nomination. Here is a review of each indictment, in chronological order.
The Stormy Daniels case
Trump’s first criminal trial is set to go to court in New York on March 25, 2024. The trial will examine the Stormy Daniels case, which is the oldest of the four. It concerns events that occurred during the 2016 presidential campaign, which against the odds landed him in the White House. During the campaign, Trump ordered his lawyer and right-hand man, Michael Cohen, to pay $130,000 to the porn star Stormy Daniels. The payment was hush money to buy her silence about an alleged extramarital affair. It was, however, officially recorded as legal expenses in Trump’s company accounts. The Manhattan District Attorney, the Democrat Alvin Bragg, considers that the concealment of the payment was really an attempt to commit or hide another crime (possible violation of campaign finance laws, among others).
In late March, a grand jury convened by Bragg voted to indict him on 34 counts, and a hearing took place a week later. In the Manhattan courthouses, in the midst of a great media circus, Trump — who is the frontrunner to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The Mar-a-Lago papers
The trial for the second criminal case against Trump is scheduled for May 20. Judge Aileen Cannon, appointed by Trump during his tenure, will preside over the criminal proceeding against him in the so-called Mar-a-Lago papers case. The former president was indicted in June for withholding classified documents that he took from the White House in January 2021, when he handed the presidency to Joe Biden. An FBI search in August 2022 found 48 boxes of material, including classified documents. About 30 referred to top-secret contingency plans to attack a foreign country (Iran).
Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is supervising this case and the investigation into election subversion, has charged Trump with 40 counts in the Mar-a-Lago case, including willful retention of classified documents — the indictment showed images of the boxes being stored in a bathroom — and violations of the Espionage Act. The indictment was updated in July, with prosecutors alleging that Trump asked a staffer to delete security camera footage at the Florida estate in order to obstruct the federal investigation.
Attempt to subvert election results
The third indictment is the most serious and is based on the events that transpired in the two months between the November 2020 elections and January 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters violently stormed Congress with the aim of preventing the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Smith has indicted him on four counts, relating to conspiracy to defraud the United States, efforts to obstruct the vote certification proceedings and conspiracy to violate civil rights. Smith has also accused six unidentified “co-conspirators,” one of whom is probably Rudolph Giuliani, a lawyer for Trump.
“The federal indictment just handed down by special counsel Jack Smith is not only the most important indictment by far of former president Donald Trump. It is perhaps the most important indictment ever handed down to safeguard American democracy and the rule of law in any U.S. court against anyone,” Professor Richard Hasen, from the University of California-Los Angeles, wrote in an op-ed in the online magazine Slate.
Prosecutors argue that Trump knew his claims that the election had been stolen were false, but repeated them anyway. The indictment states: “These claims were false, and the defendant knew that they were false. But the defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway — to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election.”
Trump’s appeared in a federal court in Washington to issue a plea of “not guilty.” A trial date has not yet been set. Smith has proposed a January 2 trial date, but Trump’s legal team is in no hurry. The former president is winning over supporters with his claims that he is a victim of a political witch hunt. “There’s no need to railroad any defendant in the United States,” Trump’s attorney John Lauro told NPR. “We’re hoping the Justice Department will recognize that justice is more important than speed.”
Efforts to subvert election results in the state of Georgia
The fourth criminal case is similar to the third, as it also involves Trump’s efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election. But this case is state, not federal, and only concerns what happened in the state of Georgia.
District Attorney Fani Willis, who is in charge of the investigation, could charge about a dozen people along with Trump for pressuring state election officials to change the vote count, which gave Biden a narrow victory of fewer than 12,000 votes. Willis has also examined a breach of election machines in a rural county and a plot to use fake electors in a bid to capture the state’s electoral votes for Trump rather than Biden.
One of the most damaging pieces of evidence against Trump is a recording, released by The Washington Post. In the audio, Trump is heard pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to secure his win in Georgia. The former president claims he was simply expressing his dismay at the outcome of the election.
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