As former US president Donald Trump runs again for the White House, he’s dogged by four criminal investigations that have gained momentum, including two focused on Trump’s zealous drive to overturn his 2020 election loss, raising the odds he will face charges in one or more inquiries in coming weeks or months, say former federal prosecutors.
All four inquiries have accelerated in recent months with numerous subpoenas to close Trump associates and testimony by key witnesses before grand juries in Washington DC, Georgia and New York, that pose growing legal threats to Trump, plus several of his ex-lawyers and allies.
Two investigations are homing in on Mr Trump’s nonstop efforts to thwart his 2020 election loss with bogus fraud charges, while others are looking into Trump’s retention of hundreds of classified documents post his presidency, and Trump’s role in a $130,000 hush money payment in 2016 to porn star Stormy Daniels with whom he allegedly had an affair.
An indictment of Mr Trump in the Daniels hush money case could even come within days. Trump’s fears over the issue even prompted him to post on social media about being arrested this week in New York, triggering a flood of Republicans to issue statements of support despite Trump calling for protests against any such move.
[ Republicans denounce potential indictment of Trump while Democrats criticise calls to protest ]
The four inquiries have been examining separately whether Mr Trump violated several laws including obstruction of an official proceeding and defrauding the United States by his actions to overturn the 2020 election, and breaking other statutes.
The multiple investigations of Trump, two of which are being led by justice department special counsel Jack Smith, are unparalleled for an ex president – especially as he seeks the White House again, say ex-prosecutors.
“It seems quite possible, or even likely, that Trump will be defending himself in four different criminal cases as he is campaigning for president in 2024,” said Barbara McQuade, former US attorney for eastern Michigan. “Making court appearances in New York, Georgia, Florida and Washington DC while also maintaining a campaign schedule may prove to be a daunting task.”
Ms McQuade added: “Trump, no doubt, will use criminal charges as a fundraising tool and as a way to portray himself as the eternal victim. On some level, he may relish the spectacle of it all, but it seems likely that accountability is headed his way.”
Other ex-prosecutors say Mr Trump’s legal travails are unique for a presidential candidate.
“The sheer number and diversity of criminal investigations of Trump’s conduct are totally unprecedented for a major candidate in modern times,” said Dan Richman, a Columbia University law professor and ex-prosecutor in New York southern district.
The criminal inquiry by the Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, into Mr Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 defeat in Georgia with his high-pressure call to the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, on January 2nd, 2021 asking him to “find 11,780 votes”, and other calls, is expected to bring charges against him and some close allies in coming months, say ex-prosecutors.
In late January, Ms Willis said a special grand jury had completed a seven-month inquiry involving interviews with 75 witnesses in her investigation which reportedly had at least 17 targets, including Trump and his former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
A number of indictments have reportedly been recommended by the special grand jury, and Ms Willis has said a decision is “imminent” about convening a regular grand jury that Georgia law requires before she brings any charges.
Separately, Mr Smith’s inquiry into Trump’s drive to thwart Joe Biden’s election seems to be in its late stages, in light of subpoenas this year to former vice-president Mike Pence and Mr Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, both potentially key witnesses to Trump’s drive to block Biden from taking office. Ex-prosecutors say Mr Meadows is a subject of the investigation.
Those subpoenas “show that the January 6th investigation is serious and narrowing,” said Paul Pelletier, former acting chief of the justice department’s fraud section.
Mr Smith has secured grand jury testimony from other key figures including Pence’s former top aide Marc Short and his former chief counsel Greg Jacob, plus former White House counsel Pat Cipollone as part of his inquiry into whether Trump’s actions before and during 6 January 2021 violated an official proceeding and defrauded the government.
On another legal front, Smith has also been leading a wide ranging inquiry into Mr Trump’s retention of hundreds of classified documents at Mar a Lago after he left the White House, a potential violation of three laws – the Presidential Records Act, obstruction and the Espionage Act.
Meanwhile, a grand jury convened by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, to look into Mr Trump’s alleged arranging hush money payments of $130,000 via his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen to Ms Daniels in 2016, heard testimony from Cohen this week.
Last week, Trump declined an invitation by the district attorney’s office to testify, a sign reportedly that he could soon be indicted.
Mt Trump has blasted all the investigations as politically motivated and said he’s done nothing illegal, decrying Smith’s appointment as “part of a never ending witch-hunt”.
Mr Trump’s legal expenses to fend off these investigations and other legal headaches involving personal and corporate matters have been hefty.
According to federal records, Trump spent about $10 million last year out of his political action committee to pay law firms representing him in the four criminal inquiries, plus cases involving the Trump Organization and lawsuits.
Those costs will surely mount for Mr Trump as the investigations ratchet up subpoenas of top former Trump allies to build their cases before grand juries, as Mr Smith has been doing in the two inquiries he’s spearheading.
As Trump runs for the White House again, quite a few Republicans are feeling very edgy.
“It does not bode well for the Republican party if Trump should be indicted and win the nomination,” said former Pennsylvania Republican congressman Charlie Dent. “The electoral outcome would be disastrous for the GOP. How much losing can we take?” – Guardian