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Donald Trump's ongoing legal jeopardy

April 4, 2023

Donald Trump is the first president in US history to face criminal charges, for paying hush money to a porn star. But his legal woes don't end there. Here's an overview of the other cases he may be facing.

Donald Trump speaks to supporters at his first official campaign rally
Trump held his first official campaign rally for the 2024 election in Waco, Texas on March 25Image: Nathan Howard/AP/picture alliance

In a first for a former US president, Donald Trump has been charged in connection with an investigation into hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels. At issue are whether the payments may have violated campaign finance laws. If convicted, Trump could face up to four years in prison.

Yet for political scientist David Dunn from the University of Birmingham in the UK, other pending cases could yet pose a greater threat for the former president.

"Although this is the first one to come to court, in some ways this is the least serious in that the attempt to subvert the democratic process in it is marginal," Dunn told DW. 

It is more likely that Trump could receive a jail sentence if it can be proven that he sought to overturn election results in the state of Georgia or that he supported the violent insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. "We're going to see more Trump, more indictments," said Dunn.

Here is an overview of legal cases pending against former US President Donald Trump:

Election interference in Georgia

"I just want to find 11,780 votes" —  Trump was recorded saying in a now infamous phone call with Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after the 2020 presidential election.

Democrat Joe Biden won the state by a slim margin, but Trump pressured Raffensperger, who was responsible for certifying his state's election results, to "look for" enough votes to change the result in his favor.

Election officials in Atlanta, Georgia, seen recounting ballots by hand in the 2020 US presidential election
Georgia's ballot recount confirmed Biden's victory in the southern stateImage: Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP/picture alliance

Now, a Georgia district attorney is investigating conspiracy to commit election fraud and election interference regarding Trump's possible attempts to manipulate election results after the fact. A so-called grand jury, a lay panel, has recommended charges on several counts. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis must now determine how to proceed.

Attack on the US Capitol

January 6, 2021, was one of the darkest days in US history. On that day, hundreds of radical Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol and five people lost their lives. In late 2022, a US House of Representatives Select Committee presented its report on the incident. The committee, made up of both Democrats and Republicans, unanimously recommended the US Department of Justice charge the former president on four criminal counts: obstruction of an official proceeding; conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to make a false statement; and attempts to incite, assist, aid or comfort an insurrection.

Three video screens show an ominous close-up picture of Donald Trump's face as supporters wave American and Trump flags in front of the White House
Trump gave a speech to his supporters before they attacked the US Capitol on January 6Image: John Minchillo/AP/picture alliance

Upon that recommendation, the Department of Justice appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to determine the degree to which Trump may or may not bear responsibility for the bloody attack on Congress. At a rally before the attack, the ex-president called on his supporters — whom he had summoned to Washington on that day — to march to the Capitol and "fight like hell."

Top-secret White House documents

To many political observers, including the University of Birmingham's Dunn, confidential government documents stored at Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida may represent an even greater threat to his future freedom.

In August 2022, FBI agents raided the residence and found numerous documents that Trump had taken with him when he left the White House, some of them classified at the highest security levels. Trump was, in fact, obliged to turn over the documents to the US National Archives at the end of his tenure as president.

Classified government documents, seized by the FBI during a raid, lie on the floor of Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida
Classified government documents were seized by the FBI during its raid on Trump's Mar-a-Lago residenceImage: Department of Justice/AP Photo/picture alliance

Once again, Special Counsel Jack Smith must determine whether or not Trump broke three laws: the improper removal and storage of government documents, the illegal concealment of documents and obstruction of justice. Here, the Espionage Act, which strictly governs the handling of government documents, could be the former president's undoing.

New York real estate empire

In another case in his former home state of New York, Trump's entire family is on the dock. The ex-president, his three eldest children Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric, and the Trump Organization family holding all stand accused of several counts of commercial financial fraud. One silver lining: Since this is a civil case, neither Trump nor his children face the threat of criminal conviction. Nevertheless, they could be looking at a hefty $250-million (€230-million) fine.

Eric, Ivanka, Donald and Donald Trump Jr., (l to r)
Eric, Ivanka, Donald and Donald Trump Jr., (left to right) could face hefty fines for fraudImage: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images/TNS/abaca/picture alliance

New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating Trump and his business on accusations that they misled tax authorities, banks and insurance companies for years by overvaluing properties — sometimes by hundreds of millions of dollars — in order to obtain more favorable bank loans and insurance premiums. This January, in a separate case, the Trump Organization was fined $1.6 million for tax fraud.

Sexual assault accusations

Several women have accused Trump of sexual assault and sexual violence. Columnist E. Jean Carroll is now taking him to court. She claims Trump raped her in the dressing room of a luxury New York department store in the 1990s.

Since the former president has vehemently denied the accusation, the now 79-year-old Carroll has sued him for defamation in the alleged rape.

Columnistin E. Jean Carroll, in a camel hair coat, holds up her finger as she speaks
Former Elle Magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll is suing Trump for defamationImage: Alec Tabak/New York Daily News/picture alliance

Trump was deposed in the case in October 2022. For three years Carroll has been requesting a DNA sample from Trump to compare it to genetic material from stains on the dress she was wearing at the time she claims the incident occurred. An appeals court must now determine whether Trump was acting as president when he accused Carroll of lying about the rape and whether he should thus be granted immunity in the case.

This article was translated from German by Jon Shelton

Oliver Pieper | Analysis & Reports
Oliver Pieper Reporter on German politics and society, as well as South American affairs.