In the coming months, Donald Trump’s growing legal troubles may get even worse. At least three investigations could bring more criminal charges against him.
Federal officials are investigating both Trump’s handling of classified documents and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. A separate grand jury in Georgia could indict Trump by September for trying to sway the state’s election results. Any of these charges can lead to jail time.
Charges are not guaranteed. “It’s certainly possible there could be more charges,” my colleague Alan Feuer, who covers the federal investigations, told me. “But it’s certainly possible there won’t be.”
Nor would a trial or conviction necessarily stop Trump from running for president. He may not be tried or convicted before the 2024 election. He could campaign from prison, as Socialist candidate Eugene Debs did in 1920. Some legal experts believe he may even try to govern from prison. if he wins the presidency.
Trump is now the first president, current or former, to be charged with a crime. The Manhattan district attorney charged him with an illegal scheme to cover up potential sex scandals in 2016. And last month, a jury found Trump liable in a $5 million civil suit for sexual assault and defamation.
Today’s newsletter will focus on three additional investigations to help prepare you for the potential news in the coming months.
Papers at Mar-a-Lago
The classified documents case may be close to closing. In August, an FBI search of Trump’s Florida home turned up more than 100 classified documents that were supposed to remain in the government’s possession. The Justice Department is trying to determine whether Trump hid documents after he was served with a subpoena ordering him to return them.
One potential piece of evidence in the case revealed this week: Prosecutors have a tape of Trump discussing a sensitive military document he has kept since leaving the White House and which he admitted was not previously declassified.
It is not uncommon for officials to lose classified documents or keep them in their homes, often by accident. Such documents were found in the homes of President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence. What is unusual about Trump’s case is his efforts to keep the documents after federal officials requested them back. Those efforts could expose him to charges of obstruction of justice.
There are several reasons why prosecutors won’t indict Trump. The underlying offense — mishandling classified documents — is often resolved without charges; officers return the files and prosecutors proceed. And given that any charges against Trump could lead to a fierce political backlash, the Justice Department may find the cost of prosecution too high.
(These Times graphics take you behind the scenes at Mar-a-Lago.)
The January 6 attack
The other federal investigation is focused on Trump’s efforts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election.
One part of the investigation may focus on whether Trump incited violence on January 6. On social media and at his rallies, he falsely claimed to have won the 2020 election and demanded that government officials change the results in his favor. In late December 2020, Trump called for a “wild” protest on January 6, 2021. At a rally that morning, he directed the crowd to “fight like hell” and march on the Capitol. After they became violent, he waited for hours before asking them to go home.
Prosecutors have also charged hundreds of other suspects in the attack and may feel compelled to bring charges against the person they believe to be the mastermind.
Still, the potential case against Trump has weaknesses: He never specifically ordered an attack or told his supporters to storm the Capitol. Eventually he encouraged them to go their separate ways.
After Jan. 6, federal prosecutors may bring other charges related to Trump’s schemes to stay in the White House. “Not only is this a huge case to prove in terms of the number of witnesses and the complexity of gathering evidence — it’s also legally very complex,” Allen said.
(These videos recount the January 6 attack.)
The Georgia investigation has a clearer timeline. Fulton County District Attorney Fannie Willis said if a grand jury indicts them, it would be by September. A separate special grand jury, which can recommend indictments but not an indictment, has already recommended multiple charges.
The Georgia case could involve multiple defendants and could center on racketeering charges for a scheme to undermine the election. Prosecutors could allege that Trump and his team worked together to try to overturn the 2020 results, committing multiple crimes along the way.
Willis has a big piece of evidence: an audio recording of Trump asking the Georgia secretary of state to “find” nearly 12,000 votes to flip the state in his favor.
The biggest challenge for prosecutors may come down to proving Trump’s intent. For example, during the phone call, was Trump demanding that Georgia officials cancel the results or asking them to verify that they had not counted legitimate votes? A process could address such issues.
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