Former President Donald Trump is no stranger to legal woes.
His career has been marked by lawsuits over contract disputes, employment issues, and tax affairs, among numerous other matters. But since he left the White House, Trump has faced a range of new criminal and civil investigations, as officials probe everything from his alleged mishandling of classified information to his actions surrounding the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. The first criminal charges against him may result from his alleged involvement in a hush money scandal from 2016.
As Trump runs for President again in 2024, the various legal challenges carry high stakes that could bear criminal sanctions, steep financial penalties, or threaten him politically. Trump has denied wrongdoing in all matters.
Here’s what to know about the major investigations into former President Trump.
Manhattan DA investigates payments to Stormy Daniels
The prospect of Trump becoming the first former President to be indicted began looking more likely in March when Trump declined Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office’s invitation to testify before a grand jury over his alleged involvement in a hush money scandal with porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. Many speculated that meant criminal charges would follow and Trump himself posted online last week that he believed he would soon be indicted.
Bragg resurfaced the inquiry this year into whether Trump was criminally responsible for payments his then lawyer Michael Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels just weeks before Trump won the presidency. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claimed to have had an affair with Trump in the past, and Cohen has testified that Trump approved a deal to pay her off with $130,000, which included falsifying payment records, labeling Trump’s reimbursement to Cohen as legal fees. Trump has denied the allegations.
Bragg has declined to comment on the probe, but legal experts suggest that if the DA pursues charges, they would likely be for falsifying business records. Another possible charge could be a campaign finance violation if the DA’s office argues that the payments were improper campaign donations intended to help Trump’s election prospects. Such a case would open a slew of novel legal arguments and could create constitutional quandaries as Trump seeks the presidency again.
Federal investigation into classified documents
On August 8, 2022, the FBI carried out an unprecedented search of Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago beach club in Palm Beach, Florida to find classified documents it believed he had taken from the White House. On August 26th, the Justice Department released a heavily redacted copy of the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant, which stated that the federal government has launched a criminal investigation into the “improper removal and storage of classified information in unauthorized spaces, as well as the unlawful concealment or removal of recruitment records.”
The affidavit stated that the investigation began as the result of a tip from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in February 2021, informing the Justice Department that they had received 15 boxes of records the previous month from Trump’s office in Mar-a-Lago. The boxes were reported by NARA to contain “highly classified documents,” per the affidavit. The Justice Department then opened a criminal investigation to determine how such documents were removed from the White House and came to be stored at Mar-a-Lago, per the affidavit, which also stated that the Justice Department had “probable cause to believe” that additional classified documents were still at Mar-a-Lago.
During the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago, the FBI removed 11 more sets of classified documents, including some marked top secret, per an unsealed search warrant. On Sept. 6, the Washington Post reported that a document describing a foreign government’s nuclear capabilities was found by federal officers, as well as other documents detailing top-secret U.S. operations so “closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them.” Over 10,000 documents without classification markings were also taken, according to unsealed court documents.
CNN and The New York Times have both reported that back in June, at least one of Trump’s attorneys signed a letter stating there were no more classified documents with Mar-a-Lago— which could potentially open Trump up to more legal liability if his legal counsel misled federal authorities. On August 16, the New York Times reported that the FBI has interviewed both former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and former deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin in relation to the seized documents.
One month after the search, on September 5, a federal judge in Florida approved Trump’s request to appoint a “special master” to evaluate the seized materials and blocked federal prosecutors from reviewing the materials until the special master had finished their review. In a wide-reaching ruling, Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the Southern District of Florida—who was appointed by Trump—said that the special master would be directed to “to review the seized property, manage assertions of privilege and make recommendations thereon, and evaluate claims for return of property.” That would include the power to evaluate documents that are not only subject to attorney-client privilege, but also could be shielded under executive privilege from Trump’s time as president. The special master’s document review could slow down the investigation by some weeks.
On September 8, the Department of Justice appealed Judge Cannon’s decision to appoint the special master, and on Sept. 12, Trump’s team urged Cannon to keep the special master in place and continue blocking the FBI’s review of the documents until the special master’s work is complete. While the appeal is evaluated, both Trump’s team and the Department of Justice submitted their candidates for the special master role by the judge’s deadline on Sept. 9. The Associated Press reports that the Justice Department proposed Oct. 17 as a deadline for the review to be completed, while Trump’s team said the review could take up to three months.
Trump’s lawyer Lindsey Halligan did not respond to a request for comment.
In a sealed filing in March 2023, a judge wrote that prosecutors presented compelling preliminary evidence that Trump intentionally misled his legal team about his retention of the documents. The judge also ordered Trump’s attorney to provide additional testimony in front of a grand jury. Denying the attorney-client privilege argument, the ruling fulfilled the Justice Department’s request on the basis of crime-fraud exception.
Investigations into Trump’s alleged actions surrounding January 6
Numerous investigations into Trump’s alleged actions surrounding the Jan. 6 riot are underway, probing whether he violated the law in his alleged attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election or instigate the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol.
In July, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department has begun investigating Trump as part of its criminal probe into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including alleged efforts by Trump’s circle to have GOP officials in certain states submit “alternate” slates of electors for the Electoral College vote count.
According to the Post, federal prosecutors have questioned two top aides to former Vice President Mike Pence before a grand jury, and asked questions about conversations with the former President and his legal counsel. The grand jury has also subpoenaed former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, per ABC News. On September 13, the Justice Department issued over 30 more subpoenas to people within Trump’s orbit to appear before the federal grand jury, according to CNN.
Trump’s lawyers M. Evan Corcoran and John Rowley did not respond to a request for comment.
A House Select Committee also conducted an investigation into January 6, tasked with writing a detailed account of what happened and presenting recommendations to prevent such an event from repeating. (In May 2022, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department had asked the House Committee for transcripts of interviews for its criminal probe into January 6.) The House Committee released a more than 800-page report in December, recommending that the Justice Department pursue criminal charges against Trump for his role in the attack.
House Republican committee member Adam Kinzinger told TIME in July that he believed the committee had uncovered “various criminal acts,” even if that wasn’t its initial goal.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis launched a criminal investigation surrounding Trump’s alleged actions during the 2020 election. In January 2021, the Washington Post reported that Trump had called Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2 and urged him to “find 11,780” votes in the state. Willis, whose jurisdiction covers most of Atlanta, launched her investigation days after the news broke, and her probe’s scope has broadened over the past year and a half. In May, the Post reported that 26 people have been chosen to serve on a special grand jury investigating possible efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani testified before the jury on August 17. (Giuliani’s lawyer declined to comment on the proceedings.) The grand jury completed its investigation in January and its report recommended that prosecutors indict multiple people over an array of charges.
“The young, ambitious, Radical Left Democrat ‘Prosecutor’ from Georgia, who is presiding over one of the most Crime Ridden and Corrupt places in the USA, Fulton County, has put together a Grand Jury to investigate an absolutely ‘PERFECT’ phone call to the Secretary of State,” Trump wrote on TRUTH Social last summer.
Trump’s lawyer Drew Findling did not respond to a request for comment.
Manhattan DA’s criminal probe into the Trump Organization
The Trump Organization was found guilty on multiple charges of criminal tax fraud and for falsifying business records by a Manhattan jury in December.
The conviction was the result of a criminal probe launched by former Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance into Trump’s business dealings, specifically into whether Trump’s family business or Trump himself misled potential lenders by inflating the value of his assets in 2020. In July 2021, prosecutors charged the Trump Organization with a 15-year “scheme to defraud the government” and charged Allen Weisselberg—the longtime financial officer for the company—with grand larceny and tax fraud, according to the Washington Post.
In December 2021, shortly before leaving office, Vance directed two of the probe’s top prosecutors to present evidence on Trump’s dealings to a federal grand jury, according to the New York Times. But his successor Bragg suspended those plans that winter after “disagreeing” with the prosecutors over the strength of the evidence, per the Times. Both prosecutors resigned—one of whom, Mark F. Pomerantz, wrote a public resignation letter stating that he believed Trump was “guilty of numerous felony violations.”
On August 18, 2022, Weisselberg of the Trump Organization pleaded guilty to 15 charges, including grand larceny and tax fraud. The Trump Organization pleaded not guilty; Weisselberg testified in the trial.
“Entering a plea of guilty was one of the most difficult decisions of his life, even with the promised sentence which could require as much as 100 days of incarceration,” Weisselberg’s lawyer Nicholas Gravante, Jr., said in a statement to TIME.
Neither Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba nor the Trump Organization responded to a request for comment.
New York Attorney General’s civil lawsuit against the Trump Organization
On September 21, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a $250 million lawsuit against Trump, his three adult children Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric, the Trump Organization, and senior management in the company, alleging that they were involved in efforts to falsely inflate Trump’s assets by billions of dollars in order to mislead lenders and secure more favorable loans.
James’ lawsuit alleges they falsely inflated Trump’s net worth to satisfy continuing loan covenants, secure insurance coverage for higher limits at lower premiums, and to gain tax benefits, among other goals. James alleges that between 2011 and 2021, Trump and the Trump Organization knowingly created more than 200 false or misleading valuations of his assets.
Trump’s legal team did not respond to TIME’s request for comment. Trump’s children could not be immediately reached for comment. In a statement, the Trump Organization said that the filing “represents the culmination of nearly three years of persistent, targeted, unethical political harassment.”
“While the job of the Attorney General is to protect the interests of the public, today’s filing, for the first time in the history of the Attorney General’s office, seeks to protect the interests of large, sophisticated Wall Street banks,” the Trump Organization statement continued. “However, not only was no bank harmed—actually, they profited handsomely – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in interest and fees—and never once took issue with any of the loans in question—all of which are either current or have been paid off (in many cases early).”
James said the lawsuit is the result of a three-year investigation that included interviews with over 65 witnesses and a review of millions of documents. On August 10, Trump declined to answer questions during a deposition with James, invoking his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination during a deposition. NPR reports that Don Jr. and Ivanka also both testified in the investigation.
James said the New York Attorney General’s office is seeking to permanently ban Trump and his three children from serving as an officer or director in any New York corporation or similar business entity registered in New York state, bar Trump or the Trump Organization from entering into any New York real estate acquisitions for five years, and pay an estimate of all financial benefits obtained through the alleged fraud, which James estimated to be roughly $250 million.
In March, a judge declined Trump’s request to move the trial, which is scheduled to start October 2.
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