Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump could easily have avoided conviction on his second impeachment – but he might find it much more difficult to beat the various serious criminal and civil investigations he is now facing.
And at least one of those investigations has the potential for Trump to be jailed if convicted.
That would be an unprecedented event in American history as no ex-president has ever been charged with a crime, let alone one.
Trump, a Republican whose spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has claimed the probes were politically motivated witch hunts by Democratic prosecutors.
But judges in two of those investigations have repeatedly ruled against Trump’s attorneys in evidence-related disputes.
These decisions underscore the criminal and civil risk Trump faces, as well as the fact that on Jan. 20 he lost the protection from law enforcement that came into effect through serving as president.
“There are a lot of balls in the air in the potential criminal arena and if I were Donald Trump I wouldn’t just rest,” said Joseph Tacopina, a senior New York City criminal lawyer.
Find him the voices
During that call, which was taped, Trump pressured Raffensperger, the state’s top election official, to “find” enough votes for him to reverse his election loss to Joe Biden in Georgia.
Willis plans to ask a grand jury to issue subpoenas in the investigation next month, which, according to her office, is “monitoring” possible violations of electoral fraud laws as well as “false statements to state and local government agencies, conspiracy and extortion” and other charges.
Trump had claimed for months without evidence that he had been removed from a second term in office by widespread electoral fraud in Biden’s favor.
Thousands of Trump supporters who believed these falsehoods violently led to rioting in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, however, ultimately failed to get Congress to reject Biden’s victory. Trump was charged by the House of Representatives for instigating this uprising with his allegations.
A Justice Department official said last month, while prosecutors are now focused on indicting individuals who rioted in the Capitol itself, “we will continue to obey the facts and the law” when dealing with whether or not Trump others are to be charged with inciting his allies.
Senate Minority Chairman Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who was one of 43 Republicans who voted for Trump’s acquittal Saturday as one of 43 Republicans in his impeachment trial, made a speech following the ruling that suggested that Trump could be prosecuted for the riot.
McConnell voted in favor of acquittal because a former president could not be charged with impeachment. But McConnell also said there is “no question” that Trump “is practically and morally responsible for provoking the“ insurrection ”.
“He hasn’t gotten away with anything,” said McConnell. “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil trials. And former presidents are not immune to being [held] accountable by both. “
McConnell’s argument was underpinned by a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday by the NAACP and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., In federal court in Washington. Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and two right-wing groups, the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, conspired to start the Capitol uprising.
“The uprising was the result of a carefully crafted plan by Trump, Giuliani and extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, all of whom shared the common goal of using intimidation, harassment and threats to stop the certification of the electoral college.” The NAACP said Biden’s victory in a statement.
Trump’s spokesman, Jason Miller, said Trump “did not instigate or conspire to incite violence in the Capitol on Jan. 6.”
The worst criminal case
While the Capitol riot investigation and Georgia investigation are the most recent investigations, perhaps the most serious criminal case Trump faces is likely the one that has been carried out by the Manhattan Attorney’s Office for several years.
DA Cyrus Vance Jr.’s investigation appeared to have initially focused on a relatively minor issue: whether Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, was properly accounted for in their financial books, hushed up cash payments to two women who said they had sex with him.
If the company hadn’t properly recorded these payments in its records, the Trump Organization could have gotten away with a small civil penalty, if only this.
One of those payments was made by Trump’s attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, to pornstar Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election.
The other payment was made by the Trump allied editor of The National Enquirer to Playboy model Karen McDougal in the months leading up to the same election.
Trump, who denied having sex with both women, still refunded Cohen the payment to Daniels. Cohen later pleaded guilty to federal crimes which included campaign funding violations related to facilitating payouts to both women.
Cohen, who was in prison, has been working with Vance’s probe since 2018.
And the investigation, as court files and news reports suggest, has only grown in scope since then.
Last August, a court filing by Vance said the investigation could consider possible “insurance and banking fraud by the Trump organization and its officials”.
A month later, another filing from Vance suggested the investigation could also look into Trump for possible tax crimes.
Cohen had testified to Congress in early 2019 that Trump had not properly inflated and deflated the value of his real estate assets for tax and insurance purposes.
Doubtful tax systems and outright fraud
Vance’s records appeared to refer to this testimony, and one file specifically stated that the New York Times reported that Trump operated “dubious tax systems, including outright fraud,” in the 1990s.
Shortly before Christmas, Vance’s investigators requested records from three cities in Westchester County, New York, as part of the investigation. The records refer to Trump’s 213 acre Seven Springs Estate property that extends across these towns.
And the Wall Street Journal reported last Saturday that Vance’s office is also monitoring loans Trump took out on Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and three other Manhattan properties: 40 Wall Street, the Trump Plaza apartment building, and Trump International Hotel and Tower.
At the same time, Vance is waiting for the US Supreme Court to decide whether Trump should hear an appeal against a grand jury subpoena for years of income tax returns and other financial documents the prosecutor is seeking as part of his investigation.
The Supreme Court rejected Trump’s argument last summer that the subpoena issued to his accountants Mazars USA was on hold because of his then president status. However, the Supreme Court said Trump could bring new arguments against the subpoena to a judge in Mahattan federal court.
However, these arguments were quickly rejected by that judge and then by a jury of the 2nd Court of Appeal.
Trump then asked the Supreme Court in October to hear his appeal against these denials, but the court has yet to say if it will.
Gerald Lefcourt, a Manhattan criminal defense attorney, said, “It is very strange that it has taken the Supreme Court so long” to decide whether it will accept the case, especially given that it has previously come across other related arguments decided with the summons.
“When will they rule?” Lefcourt asked rhetorically.
If the Supreme Court denies Trump’s motion, Vance, whose office has refused to comment on the nature of his investigation, would quickly get the tax returns and other documentation.
However, since these records are expected to be voluminous, they may take several months to sift through and determine if they provide evidence of criminal prosecution.
Tacopina, the fellow criminal defense attorney, said Vance’s persistent search for Trump’s tax returns – which the former president voluntarily refused to publish publicly for years – could be a sign of how strongly the prosecutor believes his case is right.
“Cy Vance is fighting way too hard for this case to fall,” said Tacopina. “He seems to be on something.”
While Vance awaits the Supreme Court decision, New York attorney general Letitia James conducts a civil investigation into Trump and his company, the focus of which partially overlaps with the criminal investigation.
James’ investigations have been ongoing since 2019 but did not become known until August with a court battle for answers that her investigators sought from Eric Trump, the second eldest son of Donald Trump, who runs the Trump Organization with his brother Donald Trump Jr.
James’ office said it was researching how Trump valued certain properties, including the Seven Springs Estate, as well as properties in Manhattan, Chicago and Los Angeles.
A big question related to the Seven Springs property is whether the site’s valuation has been grossly inflated to demand a $ 2.1 million tax deduction for a 2015 conservation donation.
Eric Trump, after initially agreeing to be interviewed by James’ investigators, later turned down that deal, the AG said. Eric Trump then tried to postpone the interview until after the presidential election.
James then asked a judge to force Eric to follow the interview the judge conducted in September.
James later called the ruling a “great victory” which “makes it clear that no one is above the law, not even an organization or a person named Trump”.
For his part, Eric Trump said at the time: “The New York attorney general called my father an ‘illegitimate’ president and promised to bring him down while she was running for office. Her actions since have shown continued political vengeance and an attempt at her meddle in the upcoming elections. “
Eric was questioned under oath by James’ investigators in early October.