Trump’s potential indictment concludes decades of legal scrutiny


NEW YORK — For 40 years, former President Donald Trump has conducted countless legal investigations without ever being prosecuted. This record could soon come to an end.

Trump could be indicted by a Manhattan grand jury later this week, potentially for falsifying business records related to hush money payments made to women during his 2016 campaign who accused him of sexual encounters.

It’s one of several investigations that have intensified as Trump begins his third presidential bid. He has denied all allegations of wrongdoing and accuses prosecutors of engaging in a politically motivated “witch hunt” to harm his campaign.

An indictment in New York would mark an extraordinary turn in American history and make Trump the first former president to face criminal prosecution. And it would carry enormous weight for Trump himself, jeopardizing his long-established ability to avoid consequences despite being embroiled in a staggering number of cases.

The indictment, says biographer Michael D’Antonio, would be a “shocking event, both for the fact that it is the first time a former president has been indicted, and for one of the most salacious individuals at the highest levels of business whose dedication to abusing The System is.” so well established, gets caught.”

“Throughout his life he did things for which he could have been investigated and possibly prosecuted, and learned from those experiences that he could act with impunity,” he said.

Trump first came under legal scrutiny in the 1970s when the Justice Department opened a racial discrimination case against his family’s real estate business.

Trump and his father fiercely defended themselves against the lawsuit, which accused them of not renting apartments to black tenants in mostly white buildings. Witness testimony showed that applications from potential black tenants were marked with a “C” for “colored.” Trump is suing for $100 million and accusing the government of defamation.

The case ended in a settlement that paved the way for some black tenants but did not force the Trumps to specifically acknowledge that they had “failed and neglected” compliance with the Fair Housing Act.

Since then, Trump and his companies have been the subject of thousands of civil lawsuits and numerous investigations. There have been investigations into its casino and real estate businesses, allegations of bribery and improper lobbying, allegations of fraud against the now-defunct Trump University and the charitable Trump Foundation, and an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney into sales at the Trump SoHo Hotel condominium in lower Manhattan.

According to Washington’s Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a state watchdog group known as CREW, in November 2022 Trump was charged with at least 56 felonies since the start of his campaign in 2015, not counting allegations of fraudulent dealings. But he was never formally charged.

A master of delaying tactics, Trump “finds ways to endlessly delay in hopes the investigation and litigation will go away. And he’s had remarkable success,” said CREW President Noah Bookbinder, a former federal corruption attorney.

“That makes accountability absolutely necessary because in a functioning democracy we cannot let people operate with complete impunity in positions of power where they can commit crimes and never face any consequences,” he said.

Trump’s response to such strong words: He doesn’t commit crimes, so the consequences themselves would be unjust.

As president, Trump continued to face legal scrutiny. For two years, the Justice Department investigated the ties of his 2016 election campaign to Russia. While Special Counsel Robert Mueller never found direct evidence of collusion, his final report did present evidence of obstruction. He noted that due to a department opinion impeaching an incumbent president, he could not recommend criminally indicting Trump, even secretly.

Since Trump’s departure from office, the investigation has become increasingly narrow.

In January, his eponymous company was fined $1.6 million for tax crimes, including conspiracy and falsifying business records. The company’s longtime CEO, Allen Weisselberg, is currently serving a prison sentence as punishment for evading labor benefit taxes.

Other cases are still being pursued. In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has been investigating whether Trump and his allies illegally interfered in the 2020 election. The foreman of a special grand jury that heard from dozens of witnesses. said last month that the panel had recommended the indictment of numerous individuals and suggested Trump could be among them. It’s ultimately up to Willis to decide if he wants to continue.

In Washington, Trump is under scrutiny by Special Counsel Jack Smith for his handling – alleged mistreatment – of classified documents after leaving office, as well as his publicized efforts to stay in power despite his 2020 election defeat. Justice Department attorneys in the documents investigation said they had amassed evidence of possible crimes involving Trump’s retention of national defense information and possible efforts to obstruct their work.

Some legal experts have questioned the wisdom of bringing the Manhattan case first against Trump when more serious charges could be on the cards. Trump is expected to face charges of falsifying business records, a misdemeanor unless prosecutors can show it was done to cover up another crime. And the case dates back years.

“It’s clearly not the cleanest criminal case that could be brought forward by any currently in existence,” said Michael Weinstein, an attorney and former Justice Department prosecutor who said Trump is likely to use his potential weaknesses to his political advantage.

“By getting this case first, it gives him an opportunity to go on the offensive and attack, which for him is the only way he knows,” Weinstein said.

Still, he said the possible indictments felt like a natural culmination of the “incredible series of investigations” the former president “has lived through and fought over the last 40 years.”

“There’s a history and a pattern of him saying and doing things without any consequences,” Weinstein said. “Are the criminal chickens coming home to settle down after 40 years? He has fought for a long time and he could face two or three criminal cases in the next 12 months that will expose him to serious criminal liability.”

The New York case involves payments from Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, who was serving a prison sentence to porn actor Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal after pleading guilty in 2018. Cohen was reimbursed by Trump, whose company booked the reimbursements as “legal expenses.”

Politically, Trump allies believe the case will benefit the former president in the short term by energizing his base in a competitive Republican primary, and would give another boost later if it doesn’t ultimately result in a conviction.

“The New York City Attorney did more to help Donald Trump in the election,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., echoing other GOP officials who have also argued that the investigation is likely to help Trump in the short term will, even if it could prove detrimental in a general election.

An indictment would not stop Trump from continuing his campaign. There is no prohibition against running while facing a criminal charge — or even after a conviction. In fact, convicted felons have run for president before, including behind bars.

“It is inconceivable that we would have an ex-president who is still the Republican Party’s front runner near impeachment in 2024,” says presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “One would have thought that (possibly) an arrest would have been a disqualifying factor in presidential politics. But Trump constantly surprises people with his sneaky and inappropriate behavior, which he transcends by making them the victim of a witch hunt.”


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