Shortcuts / 25 April 2024

Trump’s legal issues

Donald Trump is finally appearing in court for one of the criminal cases against him… and look, we get it: there is so much Trump news, in a way that makes it both a little bit tedious while also being hard to follow.

Trump really is a human headline generator…
He sure is, but one reason why there are so many headlines about him is that he has so much going on; he’s running again to be the president of the United States, he’s been indicted in 4 criminal cases, and he’s involved in 2 major civil cases…

Yikes, that is a lot. Let’s start with the criminal cases…
We can break it down even further. There are 2 federal cases and 2 state cases…

Sounds good – tell us about these federal cases…
In these cases, prosecutors are alleging that Trump has committed crimes against the whole of the United States. The first case has to do with what happened on 6 January 2021, which was the day that Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol building in Washington and tried to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden as the next president… 

What a day…
The first criminal case is known as the ‘election interference’ case because Trump has been charged with disrupting Congress and trying to defraud the United States.

What about the second federal case?
The next case has to do with Trump taking boxes upon boxes of documents from his time as president and storing them in his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida. If you’ve seen any reports about this case, you might have seen the pictures taken by police inside the resort, which show all of the boxes stored around the property, including, in one instance, in an unused shower…

Apart from soggy papers, tell me again why that might be an issue?
Those documents allegedly had state secrets written on them, so it’s already a big no-no to take them home. Trump has also been charged with trying to obstruct investigators from recovering those documents.

When are these federal cases going to trial?
This is a big part of the story – Donald Trump and his legal team have been extraordinarily successful in delaying both of these federal cases. They have filed motion after motion, with the general consensus being that Trump is trying to delay the cases until after the presidential election…

Why would he want to drag the cases out?
Well, if Trump is elected as president again, he’ll be able to make these federal cases against him go away, and it reduces the chances of his reputation being tarnished during his campaign.

But that would still leave the state cases, right?
That’s right, and so let’s dive into those now. The third criminal case is from the state of Georgia, and it’s very similar to the federal election interference case. Basically, a prosecutor in Georgia has said that Trump worked with others to try and mess with the results in Georgia in a mafia-like criminal conspiracy.

Why Georgia?
The reason why this case is being brought in Georgia is because when it comes to presidential elections, the votes of this state really mattered in 2020… Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by just under 12,000 votes, and in a state where nearly 5 million people voted, that’s a really close contest.

What’s the allegation?
The Georgia prosecutor argues that 19 people, including Trump, tried to overturn that close election result. But it’s a big and sprawling case which has also been caught up in significant delays, so it’s not looking like it’ll be in court any time soon… which leaves us with the final criminal case, the state case from New York.

Tell us about the New York case…
The fourth criminal case is the one that is currently before a court in New York, and we’re not going to get into the nitty-gritty… But to give the overview of what is going on, this case has to do with events way back in 2016, during Donald Trump’s first run at the presidency…

What happened in 2016 (allegedly)?
As Donald Trump was running for president, an adult film star was preparing to claim that he’d had an affair with her. Now, the affair isn’t a crime, but what prosecutors allege is that Trump used his campaign money to pay that adult film star for her silence, and then lied about using that money.

So the problem is the alleged cover-up?
Exactly, which is why the case is being called the ‘hush money’ case. It’s scheduled to run for about 6 weeks, so there’s going to be no shortage of news there… But a final thing to note is that, even if Trump is found guilty, it is unlikely that he would go to jail before the election in November, if at all. 

No jail, even if he’s convicted?
If he were convicted, he might not get a jail sentence. But even if he does, appeals and delays would mean that he wouldn’t be looking at the inside of a cell until next year… And if he becomes the president in the meantime, then it’s likely that he’d be able to avoid prison altogether.

Onto the civil cases?
There are 2 really worth knowing about. The first one has to do with the writer E. Jean Carroll – and while we’re trying to make this as simple as possible, we do need to say that the Carroll case is actually 2 cases in one.

Uh oh…
In the first case, Carroll alleged that Trump had sexually assaulted her in the mid-90s in a department store change room, and then defamed her when she raised that allegation publicly. Carroll won that case, meaning that the court found that Trump had sexually assaulted her and that he’d defamed her – with a penalty of US$5 million.

What about the second part of the Carroll case?
After the first case, Trump defamed Carroll again by calling her a “con job”… Carroll sued again, won again, and this time Trump had to pay her US$83 million. He hasn’t handed over that cash yet, but he did have to post a bond worth that amount to the court.

Which brings us to the second civil case?
We’re so close to the end. This last civil case was brought by the Attorney General of New York, who claimed, essentially, that The Trump Organisation had committed fraud in its business dealings. The allegation was that The Trump Organisation had lied about the value of its properties in order to get better deals from banks and insurers.

What happened in that fraud case?
The surprise twist was that just on the basis of the written evidence, before court arguments had even been heard, the judge decided that, yep, Trump had committed fraud. That was a bombshell, even if it was drowned out by all of the other Trump headlines… 

What was the penalty in the fraud case?
Well, you might have seen headlines in mid-March saying that Trump owed a court US$454 million – although that amount was later reduced to just US$175 million on appeal, which he also had to post as a bond.

‘Just’ US$175 million…
It makes your head spin, doesn’t it? But there you go – Donald Trump is extremely popular with Republican voters, even with findings against him in 2 civil cases and 4 criminal cases still to go…

What about the wider American public? How are these legal issues changing the election?
With the caveat that the general election is not until 5 November, a recent poll from the New York Times and Siena College has Donald Trump at 46%, while Joe Biden is just behind at 45%. So it’s neck-and-neck.

This is going to be a very interesting election…
What happens between now and 5 November is anyone’s guess…

Squiz recommends:
Listening: The Run-Up podcast from The New York Times is excellent on everything going on behind the scenes of the 2024 presidential race.

Reading: Bloomberg has a helpful visual calendar of Trump’s legal cases (and their delays).

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