Overview:

The long arm of the law is getting ever closer to grabbing the former president. But which crime will most likely be his downfall?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The past has finally caught up with Donald Trump. This has been a long and torturous story to show that eventually, and even when we thought it wouldn’t, bad people doing bad things will end up in trouble.

But what exactly has the former president done wrong?

The Jan. 6 insurrection

While Andrew Clyde, the Republican congressman who claimed “there was no insurrection,” yet was pictured screaming and barricading the doors to the Capitol, compared U.S. Capitol rioters to “tourists,” it appears that the gathering was indeed a violent uprising against an established government—the definition of an insurrection.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has told reporters that the Jan. 6 probe “is the most wide-ranging investigation and the most important investigation that the Justice Department has ever entered into.”

A bipartisan congressional panel investigating the January 6 attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol is meticulously building a case to show that Trump broke the law in trying to overturn the results of the election and turn them in his favor, inciting a crowd to storm the very heart of the U.S. government.

Trump cannot be charged with federal crimes by the committee, so the intention is to make referrals to the Department of Justice to seek criminal charges.

So far, more than 870 people have been charged and the committee is looking into others who backed the attack. “We will hold accountable anyone who was criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the legitimate, lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next,” Garland told NBC News in July.

This all ramped up a notch when former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified publicly before the January 6 committee, telling the panel that Trump

had been informed that some of his supporters who’d gathered in DC on the day of the riot were armed, but demanded they be allowed in to hear his “Stop the Steal” speech anyway; that Trump assaulted a Secret Service agent after being told he couldn’t march to the Capitol himself; and that the 45th president apparently believed VP Pence “deserved” the chants calling for his hanging.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is also currently conducting a criminal investigation into the events surrounding the January 6 attack. California representative Eric Swalwell is suing Trump, Trump Jr., and Rudy Giuliani, claiming that the group violated a federal civil rights law in attempting to block the Electoral College count. He wants them to be held responsible for encouraging violence and inflicting emotional distress on the lawmakers present at the Capitol. Capitol police officers have also filed three separate suits concerning physical and emotional injuries sustained. Furthermore, two members of the Metropolitan police have also sued Trump similarly.

Campaign donors

The House committee is also looking into the claim that Trump and his campaign misled donors who donated toward fighting election fraud—claims that were thoroughly dubious.

Amanda Wick, senior investigative counsel for the committee, said in committee, “As the select committee has demonstrated, the Trump campaign knew these claims of voter fraud were false, yet they continued to barrage small-dollar donors with emails, encouraging them to donate to something called an Official Election Defense Fund.”

Trump’s false claims were so successful that he and his allies raised $250 million, nearly $100 million in the first week after the election alone. However, most of the money raised went to a newly created PAC, not to election-related litigation, who in turn gave the money to pro-Trump organizations.

The possibility is that he could be charged with wire fraud, which prohibits obtaining money on “false or fraudulent pretenses.”

Fulton County, Georgia

Fulton County District Attorney Fran Willis is leading an investigation on the state level into Trump’s attempts to overturn the state’s election results (see her letter here). This involves the infamous telephone call in which Trump asked Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes for the win. Trump lost by a narrow 12,000 votes. As NPR reports:

In the hourlong call obtained by Georgia Public Broadcasting, an angry Trump alternately cajoled and castigated Georgia’s top elections official, seeking to have him toss out the November election results, which was counted three separate times, and “find 11,780 votes” to declare Trump the winner.

Trump called others, too, including Gov. Brian Kemp “imploring him to call a special session for the legislature to select a Trump-aligned slate of electors and another to a lead investigator overseeing an audit of absentee ballot signatures in Cobb County.”

This sits above another investigation by the Georgia State Election Board into Trump’s actions to undermine the state election results.

Many argue that this case is Trump’s biggest threat, though there are others who advocate for these different investigations. In Georgia, his crimes are various:

Among other charges, prosecutors appear to be considering indictments under anti-conspiracy laws written to combat organized crime which potentially carry lengthy prison sentences…

A combination of all or some of these charges could also open the way for Trump to be prosecuted for a pattern of criminal acts under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) statute…. The district attorney has brought in a Rico specialist for the Trump investigation.

Ronald Carlson, a leading Georgia trial lawyer and professor at the University of Georgia’s law school, has said, “It’s a greater legal threat to the president and some of his followers than any of the other investigations which are going on right now.”

Fake electors

Trump is being investigated for his attempts to submit lists of fake electors. Some argue that this might be one of the easier wins for the various legal teams, with the DOJ confirming this is under investigation.

The plot concerned the electoral college vote in seven key states whereby Trump and his allies created and submitted fraudulent certificates of ascertainment that falsely asserted Trump had won those states. The idea was to pass these certificates to then-VP Mike Pence, who would count these and not the authentic ones.

The idea was developed by Trump attorney John Eastman and others, coordinated by Rudy Giuliani, and based on a false legal theory that claimed the vice president has constitutional discretion to swap out official electors with an alternate slate during the certification process.

Trump, Eastman, and Giuliani spoke to some 300 Republican state legislators to try to persuade them to convene special legislative sessions to replace legitimate Biden electors with fake Trump electors, many of whom asked Pence to delay the certification process. The plan also involved Trump pressurizing the Justice Department to falsely announce it had found election fraud and attempting to install a new acting attorney general who had drafted a letter falsely claiming such election fraud had been found. This would then persuade the Georgia legislature to convene and reconsider its Biden electoral votes.

Classified documents at Mar-a-Lago

News sites went into overdrive when the FBI stormed into Trump’s Florida residence to obtain 12 boxes of documents, with many being classified, and some top secret. It is thought that this was connected to the fact that, back in February, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration told Congress that it had recovered about 15 boxes of White House documents from his Florida home. Such documents should be at the National Archives, so this looks to violate the Presidential Records Act. Some also argue that it violates a federal statute that dictates how classified material is handled.

After the February incident, the DoJ issued a subpoena for the additional documents, to which a Trump lawyer said in a written statement that all classified material had been returned to the government. This was thought to be untrue and, given the raid’s bounty, turned out to be a lie.

This has now become an issue of obstruction of justice, mishandled government records, and violation of the Espionage Act. 

If found guilty of violating the statutes cited in the warrant, there is a very real possibility that Trump could go to prison for decades.

New York civil inquiries

Trump has already pleaded the Fifth Amendment in response to a New York state civil investigation into the claim that the Trump Organization inflated the real estate value of his golf courses, skyscrapers, and other businesses in order to mislead tax authorities. This investigation is being led by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Because this is a civil case, Trump would face not jail time but steep financial penalties. And, unlike in a criminal case, in a civil case, a jury could use the fact that Trump pleaded the Fifth against him and imply that he has something to hide.

Two of his children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, have agreed to testify. Back in May, as NPR reports,

James’ office said that it was nearing the end of its probe and that investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could support legal action against Trump, his company or both. The Republican’s deposition — a legal term for sworn testimony that’s not given in court — was one of the few remaining missing pieces, the attorney general’s office said…

James, a Democrat, has said in court filings that her office has uncovered “significant” evidence that Trump’s company “used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions.”

By exaggerating the value of its holdings and land, the Trump Organization artificially impressed lenders or slashed tax burdens, creating misleading financial statements. This led to favorable loans and even led magazines to falsely claim Trump was richer than he was.

One example is that Trump even exaggerated the size of his Manhattan penthouse, claiming that it was about three times its actual size—leading to an increase in value of about $200 million.

New York criminal inquiries

Despite what Trump promised before and during his Presidency, he is the only president in the last 40 years to not release his taxes.

Alongside the civil probe is a criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, who, after a long battle, was finally able to secure Trump’s tax returns in 2021. To add to this, House Ways and Means Committee will also be able to obtain Trump’s tax returns from the IRS. A criminal investigation expands the potential liability for Trump.

Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney who took over from Cyrus Vance Jr., recently had a setback when two of the top lawyers who had been leading the investigation resigned in February.

A Manhattan second circuit court of appeals is due to rule whether it should be dismissed, with a Trump lawyer seeking to argue that he is protected by a federal law that makes government employees immune from defamation claims.

The Westchester County district is also filing a criminal suit:

The Trump Organization is also facing a criminal investigation by the Westchester County district attorney’s office, which is reportedly focused in part on whether Trump’s family business misled local officials about the Trump National Golf Club’s value with the express purpose of lowering its tax bill. 

E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case

A former Elle magazine writer, E. Jean Carroll sued Trump for defamation in 2019 after he denied the allegation that he raped her in a New York department store in the 1990s. Trump accused her of lying in order to increase book sales.

Mary Trump case

Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, is currently suing Donald and his sister for allegedly defrauding her out of millions of dollars. His team has essentially claimed that she should have sued them earlier.

The Michael Cohen lawsuit

Trump’s former “fixer,” Michael Cohen, has not been afraid to come forward about his former boss. He is suing Trump, the U.S. government, and other officials, for retaliating against him after the release of his book.

Legal Defense Fund Voting Rights Lawsuit

The Legal Defense Fund is also suing Trump, his campaign, and the RNC, claiming that as they attempted to overthrow the election, they violated the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Where does that leave Trump?

In short, in a very precarious position. He must be a very worried man, having to consistently consider these myriad threats to his own freedom coming from so many different quarters. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and many legal experts feel that the noose is tightening for Trump. It’s anyone’s guess what his response might now be. There’s only so much that meeting on golf courses and writing “Truths” on Truth Social can do to help one evade jail time.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...