What legal woes does former US president Donald Trump face?

Trump, expected to seek the US presidency in 2024, faces numerous lawsuits and investigations. Here’s where things stand.

Donald Trump
Former United States President Donald Trump has rejected many of the accusations against him as politically motivated [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

Former United States President Donald Trump has been sued in the state of New York on allegations that he unlawfully inflated his net worth to obtain favourable loans, tax breaks and other benefits.

The lawsuit, filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James on September 21, named the Trump Organization, as well as the former president’s eldest children, Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump, as defendants.

“Today, I filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump for engaging in years of financial fraud to enrich himself, his family, and the Trump Organization,” said James, whose office has spent more than three years investigating fraudulent or misleading valuations for Trump Organization properties.

Trump, who rejected the lawsuit as “another witch hunt”, has been positioning himself as the leading Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election.

Here is a look at some of the investigations and lawsuits that Trump faces.

Alleged mishandling of classified records

The US Department of Justice is investigating the former Republican president for his alleged mishandling of classified records.

In August, FBI agents seized a trove of documents from Trump’s estate, called Mar-a-Lago and in Palm Beach, Florida. Some records were marked “top secret”, while folders that had “classified” banners were also collected, though some were empty.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing. Since the raid, his legal team has sought to block the Justice Department from reviewing the files, saying they contain material protected from government scrutiny due to attorney-client or executive privilege.

A US judge recently put a freeze on the US government’s review until a neutral third party, known as a “special master”, can check the documents for any privileged information. The legal process is ongoing.

January 6 attack on the US Capitol

A congressional panel investigating the January 6, 2021, assault by Trump supporters on the US Capitol is working to build a case that he broke the law in trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

Vice-chair Liz Cheney has said the committee could make a number of referrals to the Justice Department seeking criminal charges against Trump, who accuses the panel of conducting a sham investigation.

In a March 2 court filing, the committee detailed Trump’s efforts to persuade then-Vice President Mike Pence to either reject slates of electors for Democrat Joe Biden, who won the election, or delay a congressional count of those votes.

Trump’s efforts probably violated a federal law making it illegal to “corruptly” obstruct any official proceeding, or attempt to do so, said David Carter, the California federal judge overseeing the case.

In the March 2 filing, the committee said it was likely that Trump and others conspired to defraud the US. That law criminalises any effort by two or more people to interfere with governmental functions “by deceit, craft or trickery”.

In addition to Trump’s efforts to pressure Pence, the committee cited his attempts to convince state election officials, the public and members of Congress that the 2020 election was stolen, even though several allies told him there was no evidence of fraud.

The committee cannot charge Trump with federal crimes. That decision must be made by the Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Trump also could be charged with “seditious conspiracy”, a rarely used statute that makes it illegal to overthrow the US government by force. To prove this, prosecutors would need to show Trump conspired with others to use force, said Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former federal prosecutor.

Multiple participants in the January 6 assault on the Capitol have been charged with seditious conspiracy.

Wire fraud

Democrats said in a June hearing of the January 6 committee that Trump, a Republican, raised some $250m from supporters to advance fraudulent claims in court that he won the election, but steered much of the money elsewhere.

This raises the possibility that he could be charged with wire fraud, which prohibits obtaining money on “false or fraudulent pretenses”, legal experts said.

Georgia election tampering

A special grand jury was selected in May to consider evidence in a Georgia prosecutor’s inquiry into Trump’s alleged efforts to influence the state’s 2020 election results.

The investigation focuses in part on a phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, on January 2, 2021.

Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” the votes needed to overturn Trump’s election loss, according to a leaked recording obtained by the Washington Post.

Legal experts said Trump may have violated at least three Georgia criminal election laws: conspiracy to commit election fraud, criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, and intentional interference with the performance of election duties.

Trump could argue he was engaging in free speech and did not intend to influence the election.

Loans and tax bills

Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, has been conducting a criminal investigation into whether Trump’s family real estate company misrepresented the values of its properties to secure favourable bank loans and lower tax bills.

Two top lawyers who had been leading the investigation resigned in February, throwing the probe’s future into question, but Bragg’s office has said it is continuing.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and says the probe is politically motivated. Bragg is a Democrat.

‘Numerous acts of fraud’ in New York

The New York state lawsuit filed on September 21 accuses the Trump Organization of engaging in “numerous acts of fraud and misrepresentation” in preparing Trump’s annual statements of financial condition from 2011 to 2021.

James, the state’s attorney general, also said she was referring allegations of criminal wrongdoing to federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

A lawyer for the former president rejected the lawsuit as “neither focused on the facts nor the law — rather, it is solely focused on advancing the Attorney General’s political agenda” and pledged to fight it in court.

“We are confident that our judicial system will not stand for this unchecked abuse of authority, and we look forward to defending our client against each and every one of the Attorney General’s meritless claims,” Trump lawyer Alina Habba said.

E Jean Carroll, who is suing Trump for defamation.
E Jean Carroll has accused Trump of raping her in the 1990s and sued for defamation after he denied the allegation [File: Seth Wenig/’AP Photo]

Defamation

E Jean Carroll, a former writer for Elle magazine, sued Trump for defamation in 2019 after the then-president denied her allegation that he raped her in the 1990s in a New York City department store. He accused her of lying to drum up sales for a book.

A Manhattan court is poised to rule on whether Carroll’s lawsuit should be dismissed.

A lawyer for Trump has argued that he is protected by a federal law that makes government employees immune from defamation claims.

In a letter made public on September 20, a lawyer for Carroll said she also plans to sue Trump for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress under New York state’s Adult Survivors Act.

That recently signed law gives adult accusers a one-year window to bring civil claims over alleged sexual misconduct regardless of how long ago it occurred.

Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan said that her client plans to sue Trump on November 24 when the law takes effect, and that the claims and Carroll’s existing defamation case against Trump could be tried together in February 2023.

This article was last updated on September 21, 2022.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters