Notable legal clouds that continue to hang over Donald Trump in 2023
It’s been eight years since he rode down the escalator in Trump Tower and more than two years since the January 6, 2021, insurrection, but the legal drama surrounding Donald Trump has never been more intense.
He pleaded not guilty last month to 37 federal counts related to the special counsel investigation into the mishandling of classified documents. The special counsel is also looking at the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.
In New York, a hush money payment to an adult film star has resulted in his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury over his alleged role in the scheme – the first time in American history that a current or former president faces criminal charges.
Also in Manhattan, a federal jury found Trump sexually abused former advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in a luxury department store dressing room in the mid-1990s and awarded her about $5 million in the battery and defamation civil case.
In Atlanta, a select grand jury has investigated the efforts by Trump and allies to overturn his election loss in Georgia in 2020.
Trump and his company deny any wrongdoing or criminality in all matters, state and federal, and he has aggressively maintained his innocence.
Here’s an updated list of notable investigations, lawsuits, and controversies:
Special counsel Jack Smith is overseeing the Justice Department’s criminal investigations into the retention of national defense information at Trump’s resort and into parts of the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
Trump was indicted on and has pleaded not guilty to, 37 federal charges related to the investigation of documents that were allegedly mishandled when they were taken to Mar-a-Lago in Florida after Trump left office.
The National Archives, charged with collecting and sorting presidential material, has previously said that at least 15 boxes of White House records were recovered from Mar-a-Lago, including some classified records.
Trump was also caught on tape in a 2021 meeting in Bedminster, New Jersey, where the former president discussed holding secret documents he did not declassify.
Trump has been charged in Manhattan criminal court with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to his role in a hush money payment scheme involving adult film actress Stormy Daniels late in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The former president surrendered and was placed under arrest on April 4, before he was arraigned in a historic and unprecedented court appearance, at which he pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors, led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, accuse Trump of falsifying business records with the intent to conceal illegal conduct connected to his 2016 presidential campaign.
The indictment has sent shockwaves across the country, pushing the American political system – which has never seen one of its ex-leaders confronted with criminal charges, let alone while running again for president – into uncharted waters.
The $130,000 payment was paid by former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen to Daniels to remain quiet about an alleged affair between Daniels and Trump years earlier.
Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels and says the probe by Bragg, a Democrat, is politically motivated.
Trump is now seeking to move the case to federal court.
Smith’s purview also includes the period after Trump’s 2020 election loss to Joe Biden and leading up to the insurrection at the US Capitol.
As part of its investigation, the special counsel’s office has sought testimony from a number of key White House insiders, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Aspects of the Justice Department’s probe include the use of so-called fake electors from states that Trump falsely claimed he had won, such as Georgia and Arizona.
Trump has been fighting to keep former advisers from testifying about certain conversations, citing executive and attorney-client privileges to keep the information confidential or slow down criminal investigators.
Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis oversaw a special grand jury investigating what Trump or his allies may have done in their efforts to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia.
Willis, a Democrat, is considering bringing conspiracy and racketeering charges.
The probe was launched in 2021 following Trump’s call that January with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he pushed the Republican to “find” votes to overturn the election results.
The special grand jury issued a report – which remains mostly under seal – that found there was no widespread voter fraud in the state and also suggested perjury charges be considered against some people who testified. Overall, it recommended charges against more than a dozen people, the foreperson said in interviews in February.
The actual grand jury that would issue any indictments was seated Tuesday in state court.
The House select committee that investigated the attack on the US Capitol uncovered dramatic evidence of Trump’s actions before and on January 6, especially efforts to use the levers of government to overturn the election.
It issued an 845-page report – based on 1,000-plus interviews and documents collected, including emails, texts, and phone records – that alleges Trump “oversaw” the legally dubious effort to put forward fake slates of electors in seven states he lost. Evidence shows, the report said, that Trump actively worked to “transmit false Electoral College ballots to Congress and the National Archives.”
In a symbolic move, the committee referred Trump to the Justice Department on at least four criminal charges before it concluded at the end of 2022, ahead of Republicans taking control of the House.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, after a lengthy investigation, sued Trump, three of his adult children, and the Trump Organization in September, alleging they were involved in an expansive fraud lasting over a decade that the former president used to enrich himself.
James alleged the fraud touched all aspects of the Trump business, including its properties and golf courses. According to the lawsuit, the Trump Organization deceived lenders, insurers, and tax authorities by inflating the value of his properties using misleading appraisals.
James is seeking $250 million in allegedly ill-gotten funds.
Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has called the investigation politically motivated based on the electoral ambitions of James, a Democrat.
A trial is set for next March.
Trump’s namesake business, the Trump Organization, was convicted in December by a New York jury of tax fraud, grand larceny, and falsifying business records in what prosecutors allege was a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on compensation provided to employees.
Manhattan prosecutors told a jury the case is about “greed and cheating,” laying out an alleged 15-year scheme within the Trump Organization to pay high-level executives in perks like luxury cars and apartments without paying taxes on them.
Carroll alleged Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York in the spring of 1996 and then defamed her when he denied her claim, said she wasn’t his type, and suggested she made up the story to boost sales of her book.
The jury found him liable for battery based on the sexual assault claim, that he should pay about $2 million in damages to Carroll for the civil battery claim, and that he should pay her nearly $3 million in damages for successfully proving her defamation claim against him.
While the jury found that Trump sexually abused her, sufficient to hold him liable for battery, the jury did not find that Carroll proved he raped her.
Trump denied all claims brought against him by Carroll and called the civil trial verdict “a total disgrace.”
Like any defendant in a civil case, Trump was not required to appear in court for trial or any proceedings and had a right not to testify in his own defense. He did not attend the trial.
The jury verdict came in the second lawsuit Carroll brought against Trump related to the assault and defamation claims.
Her original lawsuit claiming that Trump defamed her has been held up in federal court, partially over the question of whether Trump was protected because his allegedly defamatory comments came while he was president, which would lead to the lawsuit being thrown out.
But on July 11, the Justice Department said it would no longer defend Trump.
DOJ lawyers said in a letter to lawyers for Trump and Carroll that “the Department has determined that it lacks adequate evidence” to conclude the former president was acting within the scope of his employment or serving the US government “when he denied sexually assaulting Ms. Carroll and made the other statements regarding Ms. Carroll that she has challenged in this action.”
Several members of the US Capitol Police and Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police are suing Trump, saying his words and actions incited the 2021 riot.
The various cases accuse Trump of directing assault and battery; aiding and abetting assault and battery; and violating Washington laws that prohibit incitement of riots and disorderly conduct.
Trump and his top advisers have not been charged with any crimes. The former president and others who have been sued have argued they are not responsible for the actions of the people who stormed the Capitol.
A federal appeals court is considering Trump’s attempt to throw out the cases.
Former top FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok, who was fired by the FBI in 2018 after the revelation of anti-Trump texts he had exchanged with a top lawyer at the bureau, Lisa Page, has sued the Justice Department alleging he was terminated improperly.
Strzok and Page were constant targets of verbal attacks by Trump and his allies as part of the larger ire Trump expressed toward the FBI during the Trump-Russia investigation. Trump repeatedly and publicly called for Strzok’s ouster until he was fired in August 2018.
A federal judge ruled that Trump and FBI Director Christopher Wray can be deposed for two hours each as part of the lawsuit.
A federal judge in September dismissed Trump’s lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, several ex-FBI officials, and more than two dozen other people and entities that he claims conspired to undermine his 2016 campaign by trying to vilify him with fabricated information tying him to Russia.
“What (Trump’s lawsuit) lacks in substance and legal support it seeks to substitute with length, hyperbole, and the settling of scores and grievances,” US District Judge Donald Middlebrooks wrote.
Trump is appealing the decision, but Middlebrooks also ruled that the former president and his attorneys are liable for nearly $1 million in sanctions for bringing the case in the first place.
“No reasonable lawyer would have filed it,” Middlebrooks wrote. “Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”
Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen sued Trump, former Attorney General William Barr and others, alleging they put him back in jail to prevent him from promoting his upcoming book while under home confinement.
Cohen was serving the remainder of his sentence for lying to Congress and campaign violations at home, due to Covid-19 concerns, when he started an anti-Trump social media campaign in summer 2020. Cohen said he was sent back to prison in retaliation and spent 16 days in solitary.
A federal judge threw out the lawsuit in November. District Judge Lewis Liman said he was empathetic to Cohen’s position but that Supreme Court precedent bars him from allowing the case to move forward.
In 2020, Mary Trump sued her uncle, Donald Trump, his sister Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired judge, and the executor of her late uncle Robert Trump’s estate, alleging that “they designed and carried out a complex scheme to siphon funds away from her interests, conceal their grift, and deceive her about the true value of what she had inherited.”
Trump sued journalist Bob Woodward in January 2023 for alleged copyright violations, claiming Woodward had released audio from their interviews without Trump’s consent.
Woodward and publisher Simon & Schuster said Trump’s case is without merit.
Woodward conducted several interviews with Trump for “Rage,” published in September 2020. Woodward later released “The Trump Tapes,” an audiobook featuring eight hours of raw interviews with Trump interspersed with the author’s commentary.
The former president in 2021 sued his niece and The New York Times in New York state court over the disclosure of his tax information.
Trump’s lawsuit – which is seeking “damages in an amount to be determined at trial, but believed to be no less than One Hundred Million Dollars” – alleges that Mary Trump’s disclosure of the tax information to the Times amounted to an illegal breach of contract, among other claims, because the disclosure allegedly violated the 2001 settlement agreement among the Trump family.
A judge in May threw out the lawsuit against the Times.
“The Times’s coverage of Donald Trump’s taxes helped inform the public through meticulous reporting on a subject of overriding public interest,” the Times said in a statement. “This lawsuit is an attempt to silence independent news organizations and we plan to vigorously defend against it.”
Donald Trump also sued CNN in a southern Florida federal court last fall, accusing the network of a “campaign of dissuasion in the form of libel and slander” that “escalated in recent months.”
CNN has asked the judge for the case to be “dismissed with prejudice.”
This story has been updated in July with additional developments.