Donald Trump made it through his entire presidency, and nearly two years afterward, without being indicted for any criminal offense. For that, he had to thank his good luck, with a huge assist from the longstanding Justice Department norm that protects sitting presidents from criminal indictment.
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A long list of potential scandals — the Mueller investigation, Stormy Daniels, the potential violations of the Emoluments Clause, numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, and two separate impeachments — did not result in any charges for the 45th president.
However, things have certainly changed, even with Donald Trump running for president again. There are indications, more than ever before, that Donald Trump might be headed for a criminal reckoning. In fact, Special Counsel Jack Smith has been appointed to look into two of those scandals, namely the Mar-a-Lago documents case.
Some detail about each investigation:
The Mar-a-Lago documents investigation
Back in August, federal agents raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, following a criminal referral by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
At issue was whether Trump had improperly or illegally taken documents with him after he left office, as well as whether the ex-president obstructed efforts to get the documents returned.
It’s unclear exactly where the probe stands or what timetable there is for a decision on whether Trump will be charged, but Trump is thought to be in considerable political jeopardy.
“One of the biggest challenges for the prosecutors in this case was always going to be establishing that Trump had personal knowledge of the fact that the classified documents were at Mar-a-Lago, and that he was personally involved in not returning them, which will go to obstruction,” Brian Greer, a former CIA attorney, told The Hill this week.
“The fact that these classified documents were intermingled with unclassified documents that he was accessing, or would have been accessing, is potentially very valuable evidence demonstrating Trump’s personal knowledge.”
The January 6 investigation on Donald Trump
The January 6 Committee last week made a criminal referral to the Justice Department in relation to those events. The referral was for such charges as obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the government, and inciting or assisting an insurrection.
Criminal referrals are not binding, and it’s unclear if the referral makes it more or less likely that Trump will be indicted by the Department of Justice.
But it is historical, as Congress had never before referred a former president of the United States to the Justice Department for prosecution.
“We propose to the committee advancing referrals where the gravity of the specific offense, the severity of its actual harm, and the centrality of the offender to the overall design of the unlawful scheme to overthrow the election, compel us to speak,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), said during the hearing in which the Committee announced it was moving forward with the referrals.
It’s also unclear how much time the DOJ will take in making a decision about whether or not to charge Trump with a crime.
The New York State AG’s office suit
In September, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Trump, the Trump Organization and other entities, alleging that they “engaged in “years of financial fraud to obtain a host of economic benefits,” before during, and after Trump’s time in the White House.
“For too long, powerful, wealthy people in this country have operated as if the rules do not apply to them. Donald Trump stands out as among the most egregious examples of this misconduct,” Attorney General James said at the time of the suit. “With the help of his children and senior executives at the Trump Organization, Donald Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and cheat the system. In fact, the very foundation of his purported net worth is rooted in incredible fraud and illegality.”
While the case is a civil suit and not a criminal prosecution, James referred the matter to both the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for criminal investigation.
A trial date in James’ suit has been set for next October.
The Manhattan DA probe
Last April, not long after Alvin Bragg took over as Manhattan’s new district attorney, it was reported that the office had decided not to move forward with criminal charges against Trump and that two veteran attorneys who had joined the office specifically to work on that case had left the office.
The case, which had been going on for four years, was thought to focus on actions of the Trump Administration; the same office had prosecuted former Trump Organization CEO Allen Weisselberg, who pled guilty to charges this fall.
However, in recent weeks it has been reported that the Manhattan DA’s office had ramped up the Trump Organization probe, and was “jump-starting” the inquiry. And the reported focus is a high-profile scandal from a few years ago, per the New York Times: The alleged hush-money payments by Trump associates to the adult film star Stormy Daniels.
“Mr. Bragg and some of his deputies have recently indicated to associates, supporters, and at least one lawyer involved in the matter that they are newly optimistic about building a case against Mr. Trump,” the Times said last month.
An experienced attorney, Matthew Colangelo, is joining Bragg’s office as senior counsel, working on “most sensitive and high-profile white-collar investigations.”
The Georgia phone call
One aspect of Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election is the subject of a separate probe.
A special grand jury in Georgia has been empaneled to look into Trump’s January 2, 2021, phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which the then-president asked Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes, one more than President Biden’s margin of victory in that state.
The special grand jury, per CNN, is nearly done with its work. Such a jury itself does not have the power to issue indictments, but it can recommend that the Fulton County District Attorney pursue charges.
That jury is looking into several other things, per CNN, including “false election fraud claims made to state lawmakers; the fake elector scheme; efforts by unauthorized individuals to access voting machines in one Georgia county; and threats and harassment against election workers.”
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.