For 40 years, former President Donald Trump has been the subject of numerous legal investigations but has never faced criminal charges. That record may end soon.
Trump could be indicted as early as this week by a Manhattan grand jury on possible charges of falsifying business records related to hush money payments made during the 2016 campaign to women who accused him of having sex.
It is one of several investigations that have intensified as Trump runs for president for a third time. He has denied any allegations of wrongdoing and has accused prosecutors of engaging in a politically motivated “witch hunt” to undermine his campaign.
The New York indictment would mark an extraordinary turn in U.S. history, making Trump the first former president to face criminal charges. That would have huge ramifications for Trump himself, threatening his long-established ability to avoid fallout despite his embroiled in a dizzying array of cases.
Biographer Michael D’Antonio said the indictment would be a “shocking event, both because the first time a former president has been indicted and because he is one of the most devious men at the top of the business , so ingrained in his dedication to abusing the system, is being caught.” “During his life, he’s done things that could be investigated and potentially prosecuted, and he’s learned from those experiences that he can get away with it, “He said.
Trump first faced legal scrutiny in the 1970s, when the Justice Department filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against his family’s real estate business.
Trump and his father have fought an acrimonious lawsuit accusing them of refusing to rent apartments to black tenants in predominantly white buildings. Applications submitted by potential black tenants were marked with a “C,” which stands for “people of color,” testimonies show.
Trump countersued for $100 million, accusing the government of defamation.
The case ended in a settlement that opened the way for some black tenants, but did not force the Trumps to explicitly admit that they “failed and neglected” to comply with the Fair Housing Act.
Since then, Trump and his businesses have been the subject of thousands of civil lawsuits and countless investigations. Allegations of his casino and real estate dealings, bribery and improper lobbying, fraud charges against the now-defunct Trump University and the Trump Foundation, a charity, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s sale of Trump’s SoHo hotel condos A survey of Lower Manhattan was conducted.
In fact, as of November 2022, Trump has been charged with at least 56 criminal offenses since launching his campaign in 2015, not counting fraud, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW’s government watchdog group. Allegations of sex trafficking. But he was never formally charged.
Trump is a master of delaying tactics, “finding ways to delay endlessly, hoping that the investigations and the lawsuits would go away. He’s had extraordinary success,” said Noah Bookbinder, a former federal corruption prosecutor and CREW chairman.
“This makes accountability absolutely necessary because we cannot allow people to operate with total impunity in positions of power in a functioning democracy, where they can commit crimes and never have to face any consequences,” He said.
Trump’s rebuttal to this strong rhetoric: He did not commit a crime, so the consequences themselves are unjust.
As president, Trump continued to face legal scrutiny. For two years, the Justice Department has been investigating his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia. While special counsel Robert Mueller never found direct evidence of collusion, his final report did list evidence of obstruction.
He noted that he could not recommend that Trump face criminal charges, even in secret, because departmental opinions bar the prosecution of a sitting president.
The scope of the investigation has grown closer since Trump left office.
In January, his eponymous company was fined $1.6 million for tax crimes including conspiracy and falsifying business records. Allen Weisselberg, a longtime executive at the company, is currently serving prison time as punishment for avoiding taxes on work perks.
Other cases are still under investigation. In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fanny Willis has been investigating whether Trump and his allies illegally interfered in the 2020 election. The foreman of the special grand jury, which heard the testimony of dozens of witnesses. It said last month that the panel recommended the indictment of a number of people and suggested Trump may be among them. Ultimately it was up to Willis to decide whether to move forward.
In Washington, Trump came under scrutiny from special counsel Jack Smith over his handling of classified documents after leaving office (accusations of mishandling) and his efforts to stay in power despite his loss in the 2020 election. And widely publicized efforts. Justice Department lawyers involved in the document probe said they had gathered evidence involving Trump’s retention of defense information and potential crimes that could have obstructed their work.
Some legal experts have questioned the wisdom of making the Manhattan case the first against Trump, as more serious charges could be imminent. Trump is expected to be charged with falsifying business records, a misdemeanor unless prosecutors can prove it was done to conceal another crime. The case dates back several years.
“Obviously, this is not the cleanest criminal case that can be filed out of all the existing cases,” said attorney and former Justice Department prosecutor Michael Weinstein, who said Trump could exploit his potential vulnerability to political advantage.
“This case came first, and it gave him an opportunity to attack and attack, and for him, it was the only way he knew how to do it,” Weinstein said.
Still, he said possible charges feel like a natural consequence of an “incredible array of investigations” the former president “has gone through and fought over the past 40 years.”
“There’s no consequence for what he said or did, that’s a history and a pattern,” Weinstein said. He could face two or three criminal cases where he would have serious criminal liability.” New York case involves payments made by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to porn actor Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal payments, Michael Cohen served time after pleading guilty to federal charges in 2018. Cohen was reimbursed by Trump, which Trump’s company records as “legal expenses.”
Politically, Trump’s allies believe the case will actually benefit the former president in the short term, as he galvanized his supporters in a closely contested Republican primary and, if he ultimately fails to convict, would Provide another boost at a later date.
“The prosecutor in New York has done more to help Donald Trump get elected,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., echoing other GOP officials, who have also argued the probe will likely help Trump in the short term, even if It could prove detrimental in a general election.
The prosecution won’t stop Trump from continuing his campaign. There’s no ban on running while facing criminal charges — or even running after a conviction. In fact, convicted felons have run for president before, including in prison.
“It’s unbelievable to think that we have a former president who is still the Republican frontrunner in 2024 on the eve of being indicted,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. An arrest would be a disqualifying factor in the politics of the President. But Trump continues to surprise people by going above and beyond his cunning and misconduct by turning them into victims of a witch hunt.”