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What Trump’s Legal Perils Mean for His Candidacy

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Former President Donald Trump has embarked on another White House run facing a slew of legal troubles, with criminal charges and perhaps a civil trial or two threatening to derail his campaign. While not disqualifying, the cases can cause distraction and produce unflattering revelations that no presidential candidate would welcome. However, Trump is no ordinary politician, and the legal investigation could feed his preferred narrative that he is being unfairly targeted by the current Democratic administration and a “deep state” bureaucracy.

1. What are the legal issues?

Trump faces possible criminal charges by the US Department of Justice over classified documents found at his home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and his role in the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, as well as by Atlanta’s district attorney over his efforts to change the 2020 Georgia election results. On the civil side, Trump’s obstacles include a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who accuses him and three of his children of fraudulently manipulating the value of the company’s assets for years has.

2. Could any of this disqualify him as a presidential candidate?

Probably not. Article II of the US Constitution, which outlines qualifications for the presidency, says nothing about criminal accusations or convictions. However, Trump opponents see two possible ways to challenge his eligibility. One is a federal law that prohibits the removal or destruction of government records: It says anyone convicted of the violation is disqualified from federal office. This could potentially apply to Trump if — and this is a big if — he is indicted and convicted of taking classified documents from the White House. The other is the 14th amendment to the Constitution. It says that no one can hold a seat in Congress, or “any office, civil or military” if they have been “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.” At least two advocacy groups said they would argue that it applies to Trump because he instigated the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and failed to do so as Congress certified the results of the 2020 election.

3. Do these cases hurt him politically?

A Quinnipiac University poll in August found that 50% of Americans said Trump should face criminal charges for mishandling classified documents. In a Marist poll taken around the same time, 47% of Americans said Trump had done something illegal or unethical and should be impeached. But Trump’s die-hard supporters have proven steadfast. A New York Times/Siena College poll in September found that 44% of voters viewed Trump favorably, similar to the level of support found in recent years. Trump has long sought to cast lawsuits against him and investigations into his actions as politically motivated, calling them “bogus” and “witch hunts.” Signs calling for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to be defunded and Attorney General Merrick Garland to be fired have become common among Trump supporters. “Within some segments of his base of support, his popularity will be boosted by criminal charges,” said Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at the University of Michigan Law School.

4. What is the status of the criminal cases?

• In what may be the most serious criminal threat, the FBI said it found 11 sets of documents with classified markings at Mar-a-Lago, a number of which were marked top secret. In their search warrant, agents said they were investigating a possible violation of the Espionage Act — which makes it a crime to remove or misuse national defense information — along with obstruction of justice and violation of a law that prohibits the removal or destruction of government records prohibited. . Days after Trump announced his candidacy, Garland appointed Jack Smith, the former head of the Justice Department’s public integrity division, as special counsel to take over the investigation.

• Another investigation Smith will conduct involves Trump’s actions related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Trump urged his supporters to gather in Washington, then exhorted them to march on the Capitol. Lawyers for the Democratic-led House of Representatives committee suggested on January 6 that Trump and some of his allies could be charged with trying to obstruct congressional certification of the 2020 election and also defraud the US.

• In Georgia, Atlanta District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating whether Trump broke the law in his efforts to change the results of the state’s 2020 vote. In a January 2, 2021 phone call, Trump urged George Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” him 11,780 votes — one more than Joe Biden’s margin of victory in the state.

• On December 6, after a week-long trial, two units of the Trump family business, the Trump Organization, were found guilty of a 13-year tax evasion scheme. A Manhattan jury found the two entities guilty of all 17 counts, including scheme to defraud, conspiracy, criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records. Trump himself has not been charged, and a possible $1.6 million fine to the companies is relatively minor. But with a felony on his record, the Trump Organization could be barred from further contracts with government agencies and could have trouble doing business with banks. Sentencing is set for January 13. Lawyers for both units said they would appeal. Trump said in a statement that he was disappointed with the ruling.

5. Where do the civil cases stand?

• The New York attorney general’s civil suit against Trump and three of his children for allegedly inflating the value of his real estate company’s assets may be the biggest threat to the former president’s wealth, as well as his image as a successful businessman . James is seeking $250 million in damages and a permanent ban on the four Trumps from doing business in New York. She has already succeeded in winning a court order for an independent monitor to oversee the Trump Organization, a move that could bring unprecedented scrutiny to the former president’s finances.

• Trump was sued for battery in November by New York opinion columnist E. Jean Carroll, who claims Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. The suit was filed under New York’s recently enacted Adult Survivors Act, which lifted the statute of limitations for one year on civil claims for sex crimes. Trump already faced a possible trial next year in a defamation suit brought by Carroll over his comments, when she first made her accusation in 2019, that Carroll was “not his type” and that she made the claim to boost sales of her book. . Trump says he was shielded from liability in that suit because he was a government employee undertaking an official act when he denied Carroll’s allegation. In her battery lawsuit, Carroll included a new allegation of defamation against Trump based on a social media post he wrote after he left office.

• Trump, his company and his three oldest children also face a class-action lawsuit filed in 2018 by four investors who claimed they were tricked by Trump’s promotions into paying thousands of dollars to become independent sellers with ACN Opportunity LLC, which is a doomed videophone device that Trump touted as the next big thing. The devices have been made obsolete by smartphones. Trump sat for questions in October.

• Trump was sued by 12 Democratic lawmakers who accused him of causing the January 6 riot. Several Capitol Police officers also sued Trump for physical injuries and racial abuse suffered during that day. Through appeals, Trump is trying to get the cases dismissed.

• Mary Trump, the former president’s cousin, sued her uncle, his late brother and older sister for allegedly defrauding her of her share of the family fortune. Donald Trump won dismissal of the lawsuit on November 14; Mary Trump seeks to restore it.

• A group of Michigan voters sued Trump and his 2020 re-election campaign for mass voter suppression, particularly among Black voters. Trump’s attempt to dismiss the case was partially granted; the Michigan group sought more time to file a second complaint.

–With assistance from Mark Niquette, Erik Larson and Chris Strohm.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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