The Cases Against Trump: A Guide

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Written By Pinang Driod

Not long ago, the idea that a former president—or major-party presidential nominee—would face serious legal jeopardy was nearly unthinkable. Today, merely keeping track of the many cases against Donald Trump requires a law degree, a great deal of attention, or both.

In all, Trump faces 91 felony counts across two state courts and two different federal districts, any of which could potentially produce a prison sentence. He’s also dealing with a civil suit in New York that could force drastic changes to his business empire, including closing down its operations in his home state. Meanwhile, he is the leading Republican candidate in the race to become the next president—though lawsuits in several states seek to have him disqualified from the presidency. If the criminal and civil cases unfold with any reasonable timeliness, he could be in the heat of the campaign trail at the same time that his legal fate is being decided.

Here’s a summary of the major legal cases against Trump, including key dates, an assessment of the gravity of the charges, and expectations about how they could turn out. This guide will be updated regularly as the cases proceed.

New York State: Fraud

In the fall of 2022, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil suit against Trump, his adult sons, and his former aide Allen Weisselberg, alleging a years-long scheme in which Trump fraudulently reported the value of properties in order to either lower his tax bill or improve the terms of his loans, all with an eye toward inflating his net worth.

A judge ruled against Trump and his co-defendants in late September, concluding that many of the defendants’ claims were “clearly” fraudulent—so clearly that he didn’t need a trial to hear them. (He also sanctioned Trump’s lawyers for making repeated frivolous arguments.) Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for January 11. Justice Arthur Engoron, the presiding judge, has already fined Trump a combined $15,000 for violating a gag order in the case.

How grave is the allegation?
Fraud is fraud, and in this case, the sum of the fraud stretched into the millions—but compared with some of the other legal matters in which Trump is embroiled, this is pretty pedestrian. The case is civil rather than criminal, and though it could end with Trump’s famed company barred from business in New York, the loss of several key properties, and millions of dollars in fines, the stakes are lower, both for Trump and for the nation, than in the other cases against him.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
Engoron has already ruled that Trump committed fraud. The outstanding questions are what damages he might have to pay and what exactly Engoron’s ruling means for Trump’s business and properties in New York.

Manhattan: Defamation and Sexual Assault

Although these other cases are all brought by government entities, Trump is also involved in an ongoing defamation case with the writer E. Jean Carroll, who said that Trump sexually assaulted her in a department-store dressing room in the 1990s. When he denied it, she sued him for defamation and later added a battery claim.

In May 2023, a jury concluded that Trump had sexually assaulted and defamed Carroll, and awarded her $5 million. A second defamation claim is due to be tried on January 16, after a federal appeals court rejected Trump’s efforts to delay the trial.

How grave is the allegation?
Although this case doesn’t directly connect to the same fundamental issues of rule of law and democratic governance that some of the criminal cases do, it is a serious matter, and a judge’s blunt statement that Trump raped Carroll has been underappreciated.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
Trump has already been found liable for defamation and sexual assault, and a further finding of defamation is possible and perhaps likely.

Manhattan: Hush Money

In March 2023, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg became the first prosecutor to bring felony charges against Trump, alleging that the former president falsified business records as part of a scheme to pay hush money to women who said they had had sexual relationships with Trump.

The case is set to go to trial on March 25, 2024. In September, the judge overseeing the case signaled that he is open to changing that date, given the various other court cases that Trump is juggling, but he also said he didn’t think it was worth discussing until February.

How grave is the allegation?
Falsifying records is a crime, and crime is bad. But many people have analogized this case to Al Capone’s conviction on tax evasion: It’s not that he didn’t deserve it, but it wasn’t really why he was an infamous villain. That this case alleges behavior that didn’t directly attack elections or put national secrets at risk makes it feel more minor—in part because other cases have set a grossly high standard for what constitutes gravity.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
Bragg’s case faces hurdles including arguments over the statute of limitations, a questionable key witness in the former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, and some fresh legal theories. In short, the Manhattan case seems like perhaps the least significant and most tenuous criminal case. Some Trump critics were dismayed that Bragg was the first to bring criminal charges against the former president.

Department of Justice: Mar-a-Lago Documents

Jack Smith, a special counsel in the U.S. Justice Department, has charged Trump with 37 felonies in connection with his removal of documents from the White House when he left office. The charges include willful retention of national-security information, obstruction of justice, withholding of documents, and false statements. Trump took boxes of documents to properties where they were stored haphazardly, but the indictment centers on his refusal to give them back to the government despite repeated requests.

Smith filed charges in June 2023. Judge Aileen Cannon has set a trial date of May 20, 2024. In November, she rejected Trump’s request to push that back but said she would reconsider timing in March. Smith faces a de facto deadline of January 20, 2025, at which point Trump or any Republican president would likely shut down a case.

How grave is the allegation?
These are, I have written, the stupidest crimes imaginable, but they are nevertheless very serious. Protecting the nation’s secrets is one of the greatest responsibilities of any public official with classified clearance, and not only did Trump put these documents at risk, but he also (allegedly) refused to comply with a subpoena, tried to hide them, and lied to the government through his attorneys.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
This may be the most open-and-shut case, and the facts and legal theory here are pretty straightforward. But Smith is believed to have drawn a short straw when he was randomly assigned Cannon, a Trump appointee who has sometimes ruled favorably for Trump on procedural matters.

Fulton County: Election Subversion

In Fulton County, Georgia, which includes most of Atlanta, District Attorney Fani Willis brought a huge racketeering case against Trump and 18 others, alleging a conspiracy that spread across weeks and states with the aim of stealing the 2020 election.

Willis obtained the indictment in August. The number of people charged makes the case unwieldy and difficult to track. Several of them, including Kenneth Chesebro, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis, struck plea deals in the fall. Willis has proposed a trial date of August 5, 2024, for the remaining defendants.

How grave is the allegation?
More than any other case, this one attempts to reckon with the full breadth of the assault on democracy following the 2020 election.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
Expert views differ. This is a huge case for a local prosecutor, even in a county as large as Fulton, to bring. The racketeering law allows Willis to sweep in a great deal of material, and she has some strong evidence—such as a call in which Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” some 11,000 votes. Three major plea deals from co-defendants may also ease Willis’s path. But getting a jury to convict Trump will still be a challenge.

Department of Justice: Election Subversion

Special Counsel Smith has also charged Trump with four federal felonies in connection with his attempt to remain in power after losing the 2020 election. This case is in court in Washington, D.C.

A grand jury indicted Trump on August 1. A trial is scheduled for March 4, 2024. As with the other DOJ case, Smith will need to move quickly, before Trump or any other Republican president could shut down a case upon taking office in January 2025. Trump has filed several unsuccessful appeals to push back the trial date. But the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Smith’s request to expedite hearing Trump’s claim of immunity in the case, which may slow the process. Other heated legal skirmishes are under way: In October, following verbal attacks by Trump on witnesses and Smith’s wife, Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an order limiting what Trump can say about the case.

How grave is the allegation?
This case rivals the Fulton County one in importance. It is narrower, focusing just on Trump and a few key elements of the paperwork coup, but the symbolic weight of the U.S. Justice Department prosecuting the attempt to subvert the American election system is heavy.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
It’s very hard to say. Smith avoided some of the more unconventional potential charges, including aiding insurrection, and everyone watched much of the alleged crime unfold in public in real time, but no precedent exists for a case like this, with a defendant like this.

Additionally …

In more than 30 states, cases have been filed over whether Trump should be thrown off the 2024 ballot under a novel legal theory about the Fourteenth Amendment. Proponents, including J. Michael Luttig and Laurence H. Tribe in The Atlantic, argue that the former president is ineligible to serve again under a clause that disqualifies anyone who took an oath defending the Constitution and then subsequently participated in a rebellion or an insurrection. They say that Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election and his incitement of the January 6 riot meet the criteria.

The two major state cases right now are Colorado and Maine. In Colorado, the state supreme court on December 19 declared Trump ineligible for the presidency and tossed him from the Colorado GOP-primary ballot (though the decision is currently stayed). That followed a November 17 ruling by a lower court thatTrump had in fact engaged in an insurrection—a shocking thing for a court to find about a former commander in chief—but that the language of the amendment doesn’t apply to presidents. Trump has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And in Maine, on December 28, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows disqualified Trump from the ballot in her state. “I am mindful that no secretary of state has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment,” Bellows, a Democrat, wrote. “I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection.” Trump has appealed this decision as well.

Meanwhile, officials in several other states—including Michigan, Minnesota, and Florida—have rejected challenges.

Cases are in various stages of progress, but the decisions in Colorado and Maine, and Trump’s appeals, seem to guarantee that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether or not Trump is on the ballot in 2024. Time is tight: Ballots for primary elections in early states must be printed soon in order to reach overseas and military voters.

How grave is the allegation?
In a sense, the claim made here is even graver than the criminal election-subversion cases filed against Trump by the U.S. Department of Justice and in Fulton County, Georgia, because neither of those cases alleges insurrection or rebellion. But the stakes are also much different—rather than criminal conviction, they concern the ability to serve as president.

How plausible is a disqualification?
Officials in different states have reached very different conclusions about what the law says. That leaves the matter to the Supreme Court, which is typically wary of getting involved in elections but may be even more loath to allow courts to kick the likely Republican nominee off the ballot.


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