In the coming months, Donald Trump’s growing legal troubles could get even worse. At least three investigations could lead to other criminal charges against him.
Federal officials are investigating both Trump’s handling of classified documents and his efforts to nullify the 2020 election, which culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Separately, a grand jury in Georgia could indict Trump by September for his attempts to alter the state’s election results. Each of these charges could result in a prison sentence.
Fees are not guaranteed. “It’s certainly possible there will be more indictments,” my New York Times colleague Alan Feuer, who covers federal investigations, told me. “But it’s also certainly possible that there isn’t.”
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Nor would a trial or conviction necessarily bar Trump from running for president. He may not be tried or convicted until the 2024 election. He may campaign from prison, as socialist candidate Eugene Debs did in 1920. Some jurists believe he may even attempt to govern from prison, if he won the presidency.
Trump is already the first president, current or former, to be charged with a crime. The Manhattan District Attorney charged him with an unlawful scheme to cover up possible sex scandals in 2016. And last month, a jury found Trump liable in a $5 million civil case for sexual abuse and defamation.
Today’s newsletter will focus on the three additional surveys to help you prepare for potential news in the months ahead.
Documents at Mar-a-Lago
The case of classified documents may be about to end. In August, an FBI search of Trump’s Florida home revealed more than 100 classified documents believed to remain in government possession. The Justice Department is trying to determine whether Trump withheld documents after receiving a subpoena ordering him to return them.
A potential piece of evidence in the case, revealed this week: Prosecutors have a recording of Trump discussing a sensitive military document he kept after leaving the White House that he admitted was not previously declassified.
It is not uncommon for officials to misplace classified documents or keep them at home, often by accident. Such documents have been found in the homes of President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence. What is unusual about Trump is his efforts to keep the documents after federal officials demanded them. These efforts could expose him to charges of obstruction of justice.
There are several reasons prosecutors might not indict Trump. The underlying offense – the mishandling of classified documents – is often solved without charge; officials dismiss cases and prosecutors move on. And given that any charges against Trump could lead to a fierce political backlash, the Justice Department may deem the cost of prosecution too high.
The attack of January 6
The other federal investigation focuses on Trump’s efforts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election.
Part of the investigation may focus on whether Trump incited violence on Jan. 6. On social media and at his rallies, he falsely claimed he had won the 2020 election and demanded that state officials change the results in his favor. In late December 2020, Trump called for a “wild” protest on January 6, 2021. At a rally that morning, he ordered the crowd to “fight like hell” and march on the Capitol. After they got violent, he waited for hours before asking them to go home.
Prosecutors have also charged hundreds of other suspects in the attack and may feel compelled to charge the person they believe to be the main instigator.
Still, the potential case against Trump has weaknesses: He never explicitly ordered an attack or told his supporters to storm the Capitol. He finally encouraged them to disperse.
Beyond Jan. 6, federal prosecutors could bring other charges related to Trump’s plans to stay in the White House. “It’s not just a huge case to prove in terms of the number of witnesses and the complexity of gathering evidence – it’s also legally very complicated,” Feuer said.
The Georgia investigation has a clearer timeline. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said if a grand jury returns charges, he will do so by September. A separate special grand jury, which could recommend charges but not indict, has already recommended several indictments.
The Georgia case could involve multiple defendants and could focus on racketeering charges for a scheme to undermine the election. Prosecutors could argue that Trump and his team worked together to try to overturn the 2020 results, committing multiple crimes along the way.
Willis has a big piece of evidence: an audio recording in which Trump asked Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” nearly 12,000 votes to overturn the state tally in his favor.
The biggest challenge for prosecutors may be proving Trump’s intent. For example, in the phone call, was Trump demanding that Georgian officials nullify the results, or asking them to verify that they hadn’t counted the legitimate votes? A lawsuit could focus on these kinds of issues.
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