As Donald Trump runs again for the White House, he is 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 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 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.
The four inquiries have been separately whether 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 the 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.”
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 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’s southern district.
The criminal inquiry by the Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, into Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 defeat in Georgia with his high-pressure call to the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, on January 2 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, 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 Willis has said a decision is “imminent” about convening a regular grand jury that Georgia law requires before she brings any charges.
Separately, 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 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 Meadows is a subject of investigation.
Those subpoenas “show that the January 6 investigation is serious and narrowing”, said Paul Pelletier, former acting chief of the justice department’s fraud section.
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 proceedings and defrauded the government.
On another legal front, Smith has also been leading a wide-ranging inquiry into 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 Trump’s alleged arranging hush money payments of $130,000 via his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen to Daniels in 2016, heard testimony from Cohen this week.
Last week, Trump declined an invitation by the DA’s office to testify, a sign reportedly that he could soon be indicted.
Trump has blasted all the investigations as politically motivated and said he had done nothing illegal, decrying Smith’s promise as “part of a never ending witch-hunt”.
But ex-prosecutors see huge legal headaches ahead for Trump, and probable charges at least in the Georgia investigation.
“With the Manhattan DA now presenting evidence to a grand jury, Trump now faces four credible criminal investigations – unprecedented for the most hardened criminals, never mind a former president who is seeking to enter the White House again,” Pelletier said.
“Of all the investigations, Georgia appears likely to bring the most serious charges imminently against Trump. The Mar-a-Lago document investigation has picked up speed, but, frustratingly, appears to be on a more cautious and deliberate track.”
Other former federal prosecutors see strong signs that in Georgia charges against Trump, and some of his top lawyers and allies are coming.
“There is little doubt that a number of indictments are on the horizon in Georgia. My sense is that the Fulton county DA is putting the final touches on bringing Rico [racketeering] charges involving Trump and others” said former US attorney Michael Moore, of Georgia.
“Trump will surely be the main player, and I expect to see some well-known names in upcoming indictments,” adding that Trump, as well as Meadows and Giuliani “are likely to each see more of the inside of a courtroom than any of they might like”.
Trump has dubbed his call to Raffensperger as “perfect”.
Moore noted: “There will be an unavoidable overlap of efforts by the Fulton DA and the special counsel. The efforts to overturn the 2020 election had both state and federal implications even while dealing with the same facts.
“The ability of the special counsel to delve into conduct across many jurisdictions may prove especially useful when looking at the efforts to string together the fake electors schemes in multiple states,” referring to a scheme the justice department has focused on involving efforts by Giuliani and others to replace electors in key states Biden won with Trump electors.
Other ex-prosecutors note significant overlap between the Georgia investigation and the special counsel’s, both of which threatened Trump, Giuliani, ex-Trump lawyer John Eastman and others.
“While Trump’s calls to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other Georgia state officials appeared to be at the center of the Fulton county DA’s probe, that investigation likely extends to efforts by Trump’s legal team, including Rudy Giuliani, to convince Georgia legislators to overturn the election results,” said Richman.
“Yet the legal team’s nationwide efforts by Giuliani, Eastman and others – encouraged by Trump to an extent that will need to be clarified – to present slates of phoney electors to Congress and to otherwise disrupt the electoral certification also seems to be at the heart of one prong of Jack Smith’s federal investigation.”
Not surprisingly, Trump’s legal expenses to end these investigations and other legal headaches involving personal and corporate matters have been hefty.
According to federal records, Trump spent about $10m 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 Trump as the investigations ratchet up subpoenas of top former Trump allies to build their cases before grand juries, as Smith has been doing in the two inquiries he is spearheading.
“Prosecutors tend to conduct investigations in concentric circles, starting at the outer edges and then progressing ever inward with the target at the center,” McQuade said. “They want to arm themselves with as much information as possible when they question those who are closest to the target. Now that Smith is serving subpoenas on Meadows and Pence, it seems that he has entered the final circle of his investigation.”
Little wonder that as Trump runs for the White House again, quite a few Republicans are feeling 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?”