What legal fights does Trump face once out of office?

What legal fights does Trump face once out of office?
Source: Tom Brenner, Reuters

On January 20, President-elect Joe Biden will take the oath of office and officially become the 46th president of the United States. It will mark the end of a contentious election, as well as the conclusion to President Donald Trump’s tenure as “leader of the free world.” Trump will return to being a regular citizen and, with that, he will once again be open to legal prosecution.

Since taking office, Trump has faced multiple legal challenges, including an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and impeachment in the House of Representatives. In both cases, Trump ultimately faced no legal consequences, as Mueller said he could “not make a determination as to whether the president committed a crime” and the Senate acquitted the president in his impeachment trial.

Many more legal fights await Trump in the next few years, though, some of which he had been protected from while in office. His potential legal battles include investigations into his personal financial dealings and those of his family and the Trump Organization, as well as lawsuits related to rape allegations and fraud.

Federal prosecution?

Since taking office, Trump has been accused of multiple crimes, including conspiring with Russia to steal the 2016 election and obstruction of justice. None of those charges have stuck, but some believe that once Trump is no longer president, a newly appointed US attorney general could and should investigate him and the members of his administration.

Trump’s critics have called him “the most corrupt president in American history,” whose crimes include breaking the emoluments clause of the constitution and using his position to enrich his allies. These same critics believe that the incoming Biden administration must pursue legal cases against Trump in order to assert that the rule of law still holds.

However, there are those who doubt that much of anything will come from a federal prosecution of Trump. For one, some believe it may be possible for Trump to pardon himself for any federal crimes. Furthermore, the incoming Biden administration has already made it known that it does not wish to pursue prosecution of Trump for alleged crimes, instead hoping to push a message of national reunification.

Even if both are true, though, Trump still faces serious legal peril come January 21, 2021.

New York investigations

While Trump has been accused of numerous crimes, it appears the greatest legal jeopardy the outgoing president faces relates to criminal and civil cases in New York. Perhaps the most concerning for Trump is a criminal investigation being led by New York district attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

While full details of the investigation are not known, it is said to involve financial crimes, including tax and insurance fraud. In July, Vance’s ongoing investigation had a major victory when the Supreme Court determined that the president was not immune to a subpoena for his tax returns. Trump has fought the release of his tax returns, though some have purportedly been leaked and are said to reveal evidence of tax fraud.

Vance’s investigation into Trump’s alleged financial misconduct is a state – not a federal – case and is therefore not under the authority of Biden or the Department of Justice (DOJ). As The New York Times reports, that leaves open the possibility of “a criminal conviction, or even prison, for a former president.”

In a separate New York-based investigation, the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, has been investigating potential “financial impropriety” by the Trump Organization. That investigation not only focuses on Trump, but his associates and his children, including his daughter Ivanka Trump, who was allegedly paid “consulting fees” that were then illegally deducted as tax write-offs.

James has said her investigation was rooted in the Congressional testimony of Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who said the Trump Organization falsely inflated the value of its properties. Both Vance and James have indicated they will continue to pursue their investigations to their ends.

Trump’s lawsuits

Trump is no stranger to lawsuits. Before he came to office, he had been involved in around 4,000 separate lawsuits and was facing multiple lawsuits even as he was sworn in.

One of the most high-profile cases was the class action lawsuit for his role in Trump University. The for-profit university claimed to provide students with the Trump-approved skills to succeed in the field, but nearly 4,000 former students filed a lawsuit accusing the university of false advertising and fraud. That lawsuit was settled for US$25 million shortly after Trump took office.

In 2021, Trump will once again be facing multiple lawsuits. One involves E. Jean Carroll, the former advice columnist who wrote in her 2019 memoir that Trump raped her in the mid-90s. Carroll has sued Trump for defamation after he accused her of lying. As part of that lawsuit, Carroll has requested Trump’s DNA so it can be compared to the dress she was wearing on the day of the alleged assault.

While Trump has been in office, the DOJ, led by Attorney General William Barr, has been working as Trump’s defense team, even unsuccessfully attempting to have the US government replace Trump as the defendant in the case. The DOJ’s defense of Trump in a civil court case is one of multiple examples detractors cite as proof that the department has been corrupted under Barr.

Once out of office, Trump will no longer have the DOJ’s support in Carroll’s lawsuit. Nor will he have it in a fraud lawsuit brought by his niece, Mary Trump, who claims that Trump and his siblings cheated her out of family money.

Additionally, Trump has been fighting a defamation lawsuit brought by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice” who, like Carroll, has accused Trump of sexual assault. Trump’s legal team has argued that a sitting president can’t be sued and, as a result, the case has been delayed multiple times. Once Trump is out of office, those arguments will be moot.

Trump may also choose to continue his lawsuits that allege there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. While Trump’s legal team has filed dozens of such lawsuits with next-to-no success, it is conceivable Trump will continue to file these lawsuits and fundraise off of them.

Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at tips@themilsource.com