What Trump Investigations Mean for a Trump Candidacy


Former President Donald Trump is eyeing another White House run while facing a slew of legal troubles, with criminal charges and perhaps a civil lawsuit or two potentially threatening to disrupt any campaign. While not disqualifying, the cases could provide distractions and unflattering revelations that no presidential candidate would welcome. Trump is no ordinary politician, however, and legal scrutiny may feed his favorite narrative that he is unfairly targeted by the current Democratic administration and a “deep state” bureaucracy.

1. What legal cases are there?

Trump faces possible criminal charges from the US Department of Justice over classified documents found at his home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida; by the Department of Justice regarding its role in the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots; and by the Atlanta District Attorney for his attempts to alter the Georgia 2020 election results. “All of these entities are active and not under its control and could file charges at almost any time,” said Kevin O’Brien, a former federal prosecutor in Brooklyn. On the civilian side, Trump’s hurdles include a lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James accusing him and three of his children of years of fraudulently manipulating the value of company assets.

2. Could any of this disqualify him as a presidential candidate?

On the whole no. Article II of the US Constitution, which regulates the requirements for the presidency, says nothing about criminal charges or convictions. Trump opponents, however, see two possible ways to challenge his eligibility. One is a federal law that prohibits the removal or destruction of government records: it says anyone convicted of the crime will be barred from federal office. This could potentially apply to Trump if – and this is a big if – he is charged and convicted for taking classified documents from the White House. The other is the 14th Amendment. It states that no one can hold a seat in Congress or hold “any civil or military office” if “involved in an insurrection or rebellion.” At least two advocacy groups have said they will argue that this applies to Trump for instigating and not stopping the January 6 riots in the Capitol when Congress confirmed the results of the 2020 election.

3. Do these cases hurt him politically?

A Quinnipiac University poll in August found that 50% of Americans said Trump should be prosecuted for misusing classified documents. In a Marist poll conducted around the same time, 47% of Americans said Trump had done something illegal or unethical and should be prosecuted. But Trump’s hardcore supporters have proven steadfast. A New York Times/Siena College poll in September found that 44% of voters view Trump positively, similar to the past few years. Trump has long tried to label lawsuits against him and investigations into his conduct as politically motivated, calling them “hoaxes” and “witch hunts.” Signs calling for the defunding of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the firing of Attorney General Merrick Garland have become common among Trump supporters. “In some segments of his support base, criminal charges would bolster his popularity,” said Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at the University of Michigan Law School.

4. What is the status of criminal cases?

• In what may be the most serious criminal threat, the FBI said it found 11 sets of documents at Mar-a-Lago that bore secret markings, some of which were marked top secret. In their search warrant, the agents said they are investigating a possible violation of the Espionage Act — making it a crime to remove or misuse national defense information — as well as obstruction of justice and violation of a law requiring the removal or Destruction of information prohibits government records. The advance was bolstered by an appeals court ruling that allowed investigators to use the secret-marked documents about Trump’s appeal.

• The Justice Department expanded its January 6 investigation into the Capitol rioters to include those with Trump ties. That seemed to raise the possibility that Trump could be impeached for his role in urging his supporters to gather in Washington and then march to the Capitol. Lawyers for the Democrat-led House Jan. 6 committee have suggested Trump and some of his allies could face charges of trying to obstruct congressional certification of the 2020 election and defrauding the US.

• In Georgia, Atlanta District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating whether Trump broke the law in his attempts to change the results of the 2020 state vote. In a Jan. 2, 2021 phone call, Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” him 11,780 votes — one more than Joe Biden’s winning margin in the state.

• Trump’s family business, the Trump Organization, went on trial in New York on October 31, accused of participating in a 15-year tax evasion scheme. The company’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, is the only person charged in the case. He has pleaded guilty and promised to testify truthfully. The tangible consequence of this process — a potential $1.6 million fine — is relatively small, but the potential reputational cost to Trump is harder to quantify.

5. Where are the civil cases?

• The New York Attorney General’s civil lawsuit against Trump and three of his children for allegedly inflating his real estate company’s fortunes is perhaps the greatest threat to the former president’s wealth and image as a successful businessman. James is demanding $250 million in disgorgement and a permanent ban on the four Trumps from doing business in New York. It has already secured a court order for an independent observer to monitor the Trump Organization, a move that could put the former president’s finances under unprecedented scrutiny.

• Trump could face trial next year in a defamation lawsuit brought by New York columnist E. Jean Carroll, who alleges Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. When she filed her charges in 2019, Trump, then President, said Carroll was “not his type” and that she made the claim to boost sales of her book. Those statements, Carroll says, defamed her. Trump says he is protected from liability because he was a government official performing an official act when he denied Carroll’s allegation. If that argument fails, a trial could begin in February. Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan says Trump defamed Carroll again, this time after he left office, in a social media post that again dismissed the rape allegations. A possible lawsuit for defamation because of this position would not be the subject of a federal employee protection claim. Carroll’s attorney said she will sue Trump under the recently enacted Adult Survivors Act in New York, which opens a one-year window for claims that would otherwise be statute-barred.

• Trump, his company and his three eldest children are also facing a class action lawsuit filed in 2018 by four investors who allege they were enticed into paying thousands of dollars to sell independent sellers at ACN Opportunity LLC by Trump’s promotions to become the a-selling, doomed videophone device that Trump has touted as the next big thing. The devices were made obsolete by smartphones. Trump sat for questions in October.

• Trump has been sued by 12 Democratic lawmakers who have accused him of inciting the January 6 riots. Several Capitol Police officers also sued Trump for physical injuries and racial assault he suffered that day. Through appeals, Trump is attempting to dismiss the lawsuits.

• Mary Trump, the former president’s niece, has sued her uncle, late brother and older sister for allegedly cheating them out of their share of the family fortune. Both Trumps are awaiting a judge’s decision on the former president’s motion to dismiss. A trial in this case would likely unearth decades of family drama linked to allegedly rampant financial shenanigans.

• A group of Michigan voters sued Trump and his 2020 re-election campaign for mass voter suppression, particularly among black voters. Trump’s attempt to dismiss the case was partially upheld; The Michigan group asked for more time to file a second complaint.

–Assisted by Mark Niquette, Erik Larson and Chris Strohm.

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