Trump's Legal Peril Stretches Beyond Manhattan D.A.'s Inquiry
(Bloomberg) -- The criminal case set to be unsealed Thursday afternoon against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer constitutes by far the biggest legal threat yet leveled at Donald Trump, but it’s not the only one.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s charges against Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg puts pressure on the longtime Trump executive to turn on his former boss and possibly provide evidence allowing prosecutors to bring a more expansive case. Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James have been probing Trump’s business dealings for acts of fraud beyond the tax-related charges set to be unveiled Thursday. Charges by Vance could land Trump in jail while a successful case by James could cripple his company.
But Trump is also being sued for defamation by two women who claim he sexually assaulted them decades ago, a niece who claims he helped swindle her out of her share of the family fortune and by Democratic members of Congress and injured police officers who claim he helped incite the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Trump may also be under investigation by Atlanta prosecutors for pressing Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” him enough votes to swing the election.
It’s not all bad news on the legal front for Trump. Several legal threats against him have faded since he left office. The Biden administration has shown little inclination to pursue federal charges of any kind, making no move to revive Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible obstruction of justice by Trump or the campaign-finance case in which former Trump fixer Michael Cohen implicated his former boss. Attorney General Merrick Garland also surprised many by backing Trump’s position in one of the defamation cases that he can’t be sued because calling his rape accuser a liar fell within his official duties as president — the same defense that may also shield him from the Capitol riot cases.
Here are the other major legal threats Trump faces:
New York Attorney General Probe
Though James’s office participated in Vance's criminal probe, she's also conducting her own wide-ranging civil investigation into the Trump Organization. A major focus of James’s investigation has been whether the company provided an accurate appraisal of Seven Springs, a 212-acre estate in Westchester County, New York, when the property served as the basis for about $21.1 million in tax deductions in the 2015 tax year. Alleged manipulation of asset valuations could eventually become part of the Manhattan criminal case, but James could still seek separate economic penalties.
Capitol Riot Suits
Trump is being sued by 12 Democratic members of Congress and two Capitol police officers for allegedly inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection by holding and speaking at the rally which brought many of the rioters to Washington. In one of the suits, Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson and a coalition of other Democrats alleges Trump violated the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan Act, which was designed to protect voters and public officials from intimidation, by urging his supporters to confront members of Congress while they were in the act of certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.
A challenge for all those suits is that Trump was president at the time of the riot and is immune from lawsuits over official acts. Though the plaintiffs argue the rally speech fell outside the then-president’s duties, Trump is claiming the opposite. “It is well recognized that rousing and controversial speeches are a key function of the presidency,” Trump’s lawyer, Jesse Binnall, said in a filing last month.
Vance isn’t the only district attorney eyeing Trump. Atlanta’s Fani Wallis is investigating attempts to influence the 2020 election, which she has said includes a Jan. 2 phone call in which the then-president urged Raffensperger, Georgia’s top election official, to find him 11,780 votes, literally one more than Biden’s margin of victory in the state. Soliciting election fraud is a crime under both federal and Georgia law, but Wallis might be challenged to show Trump acted with intent, meaning he actually knew that there weren’t votes to be found for him.
Trump also faces a lawsuit by a group of Black voters in Michigan who said his attempts to overturn the results in that state violated the federal Voting Rights Act. Trump is arguing to dismiss the case on the grounds that they can’t show he attempted to intimidate or coerce them as voters and, yet again, because his actions fell within his official duties as president.
Former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos came forward during the 2016 campaign to accuse Trump of groping her in a Beverly Hills hotel suite a decade earlier. In 2019, New York advice columnist E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a Manhattan department store dressing room in the 1990s. Trump called both women liars, saying Zervos was seeking fame and Carroll was “not his type” -- the latter quip made in a White House interview. He's been fighting to toss out their defamation suits ever since.
The fact that Trump was president when he denied Carroll’s claims may make a big difference though. As in other cases, Trump claims he’s immune because his statements were an official act. In the last weeks of his administration, the Justice Department moved to take over the case on that theory. A federal judge in Manhattan rejected the move, but Trump got some surprising help on appeal — the Biden Justice Department, while expressing disapproval of his comments, also said Trump couldn’t be sued over them. A ruling on that appeal could come this year.
Trump could also potentially get hit with defamation suits by voting-technology companies his supporters placed at the center of debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. Dominion Voting Systems and another company, Smartmatic, have so far sued Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, among others, but they haven’t ruled out suing the former president.
Not long after she published a damning book on her uncle, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man,” Mary Trump sued the then-president, his late brother and older sister for allegedly cheating her out of her share of the family fortune. The daughter of Donald Trump’s deceased older brother Fred, Mary Trump claims that, when she settled a dispute over her grandfather’s will in 2001, she was told the estate was worth around $30 million but later found out it was closer to $1 billion. Donald Trump has moved to dismiss the suit, calling its claims “outlandish and incredulous” and accusing his niece of having political motivations.
Trump and his three eldest children are also facing a 2018 fraud suit over their endorsement on Celebrity Apprentice of ACN Opportunity LLC, a troubled multilevel marketing company that later went bust. The plaintiffs said the Trumps persuaded them to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in ACN’s desktop video phone service, which was quickly eclipsed with the advent of smartphones. A federal judge in New York rejected the Trumps’ move to force the dispute into private arbitration, but the president and his children are now appealing that ruling. Trump has called the lawsuit politically motivated and argued that he was simply offering his opinion when he endorsed ACN.
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