Thursday, 28th September 2023

The growing legal woes of Donald Trump

Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he was indicted in a probe over his handling of classified documents, in a case that would make him the first US president to face federal criminal charges.

Former US president Donald Trump appears in court at the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on April 4, 2023. – Former US president Donald Trump arrived for a historic court appearance in New York on Tuesday, facing criminal charges that threaten to upend the 2024 White House race. (Photo by Andrew KELLY / POOL / AFP)

Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he was indicted in a probe over his handling of classified documents, in a case that would make him the first US president to face federal criminal charges.

But the matter is far from the only legal peril dogging Trump as he seeks a return to the White House in 2024.

Here are the key investigations underway against the 76-year-old one-term president:

– Secret documents at home –
Special counsel Jack Smith is leading the ongoing investigation into classified documents found at Trump’s Florida home — and into the possible obstruction of the probe.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence last August turned up boxes of classified documents taken when he left office in early 2021.

The raid was triggered by a review of records that Trump surrendered to authorities in January 2022.

The Justice Department began investigating after the 15 boxes were found to contain national defense information, including 184 documents marked as confidential, secret, or top secret.

It was not yet clear what the exact charges might be.

One of Trump’s attorneys, Jim Trusty, told CNN that his client has been indicted on seven charges, including the willful retention of documents in violation of the Espionage Act, making false statements, obstruction of justice and a count of conspiracy.

People familiar with the matter told The New York Times the conspiracy charge was related to obstruction of justice.

Trump said on Truth Social that he was “summoned to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, at 3 PM.”

– Stormy hush money? –
A New York grand jury indicted Trump in March over hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Prosecutors say the money was paid prior to the 2016 election to silence Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, over claims she had a relationship with Trump in 2006 — a year after he married Melania Trump.

Late in the campaign, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen arranged a payment of $130,000 to Daniels in exchange for her pledge of confidentiality.

After US media broke the story, Cohen cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty in 2018 to charges of tax and bank fraud, as well as violating federal campaign financing laws.

Cohen testified that the Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen for his payment to Daniels, which prosecutors said amounted to an undeclared campaign gift in violation of election financing laws.

That case, in which he faces 34 felony counts, is due to go to trial next March, in the middle of primary election season.

– Incited Capitol attack? –

The independent prosecutor Smith will also decide whether to charge anyone alleged to have “unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power” after the 2020 election or during certification by Congress of the results.

On January 6, 2021, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol seeking to stop that certification.

Before the assault, Trump delivered a fiery speech nearby urging the crowd to “fight like hell”.

In explosive hearings separate from the Justice probe, lawmakers argued that Trump knew he lost the election yet pressed fake claims of fraud.

They also presented evidence of alleged misconduct by Trump leading up to the insurrection, including accusations that he attempted to co-opt government departments into his bid to overturn the election results.

Federal prosecutors have obtained convictions of or guilty pleas from more than 500 people for participating in the uprising, but it remains unclear if Trump will face charges for any plotting or fomenting of the Capitol attack.

– Other probes –
Trump was found liable in a civil case last month for sexually abusing and defaming an American former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996, and ordered the ex-president to pay her $5 million in damages.

It marked the first time Trump faced legal consequences over a string of sexual assault allegations dating back decades.

The former leader immediately rejected the verdict as a “disgrace”.

Separately, Trump is being investigated for pressuring officials in the southern swing state of Georgia to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory, including a taped phone call in which he asked the then-secretary of state to “find” enough votes to reverse the result.

The top prosecutor in Georgia’s Fulton County, Fani Willis, has assembled a special grand jury that could see Trump facing conspiracy charges connected to election fraud and interference.

This year, the grand jury forewoman said the 23-member panel had recommended indictments of multiple people, including “certainly names that you would recognize”. She did not confirm whether Trump was among them.

In New York, meanwhile, the state attorney general Letitia James filed a civil suit against Trump and three of his children, accusing them of fraud by over-valuing assets to secure loans and then under-valuing them to minimize taxes.

James is seeking $250 million in penalties as well as banning Trump and his children from serving as executives at companies in New York.