By Masood FarivarFebruary 18, 2021 03:04 AM
WASHINGTON – As president, Donald Trump was immune from criminal prosecution and civil liability.
But now that he is a private citizen, he no longer enjoys the cloak of presidential immunity — and his legal troubles are starting to pile up.
On Tuesday, just three days after the Senate acquitted him of an impeachment charge of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Trump was sued over the riot in federal court by a prominent U.S. Democratic representative.
The suit by Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, accuses Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two far-right groups of conspiring to incite the riot to prevent congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.
The lawsuit is likely to be the first of many. But Trump’s legal troubles are not limited to his role in the riot. Ongoing investigations in New York and other lawsuits are likely to keep him “wrapped up” for years, said Sarah Tuberville of the Project on Government Oversight.
“I think one of his biggest perils now is that the many defenses that he had before, both legal, as well as political, are not available to him” outside of office, Tuberville said.
Jason Miller, a spokesperson for the former president, called the investigations and lawsuits “nakedly partisan stuff that we’re seeing from partisan Democrats.”
Despite growing calls from Democrats for the Department of Justice to investigate Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack, it remains uncertain whether the law enforcement agency will undertake such a politically charged probe.
Biden has said he will leave it up to his incoming attorney general, Merrick Garland, to decide whether to investigate or prosecute Trump. The question is likely to dominate Garland’s confirmation hearings set for next week.
Here is a look at some of the civil and criminal cases that Trump now faces.
Fani Willis, the top prosecutor for Fulton County, Georgia, is investigating whether Trump broke state law when he pressed top officials in the battleground state to reverse his election loss to Biden.
At the heart of the investigation is a Jan. 2 phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” him enough votes to change the outcome of the election in the state.
In a Feb. 10 letter to top Georgia officials, Willis wrote that the criminal investigation is a high priority for her office and that she is examining a wide range of potential violations, from solicitation of election fraud to violence or threats related to the election’s administration.
Kimberly Wehle, a former federal prosecutor and now a law professor at the University of Baltimore, said the investigation appears to be moving along “in a serious way.”
“That’s because we know what the evidence is, and it’s pretty clear what happened,” Wehle said.
For more than two years, New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. have been investigating Trump and his real estate empire, The Trump Organization, for alleged fraud and financial improprieties.
Vance’s civil probe grew out of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s 2019 congressional testimony during which he alleged that Trump committed financial crimes by manipulating the value of his real estate assets over a period of several years.
The investigation appears to be gathering steam. Last month, a New York Supreme Court judge ordered The Trump Organization to turn over documents to James’ office.
The separate criminal investigation, led by Vance’s office, began in 2018 as a probe of “hush money” payments that Cohen made in 2016 to two women who allegedly had extramarital affairs with Trump. Cohen subsequently served time for tax evasion, campaign finance violations and perjury in connection with the payments.
The Vance investigation resumed after federal prosecutors closed the case in 2019 without charging Trump, and it has since widened to include a range of criminal violations, from tax and insurance fraud to falsifying business records.
While Trump has yet to turn over his financial records to Vance despite a Supreme Court ruling last year, the investigation appears to be picking up, with Vance’s office reportedly hiring forensic experts to aid with the probe.
District of Columbia
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine’s office is looking into whether Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol violated a local anti-riot statute, a spokesperson told VOA.
Racine’s jurisdiction is limited to enforcing the capital city’s code. The more than 200 rioters arrested to date have all been federally charged.
Under Washington’s local code, “rioting or inciting to riot” is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison. Racine’s office has not decided whether to move ahead with a charge under the code, the spokesperson said.
Wehle said that while a misdemeanor is “not a serious disincentive,” it would put a “stain on (Trump’s) presidency.”
Trump faces a pair of defamation lawsuits brought by two women who have accused him of sexual misconduct. In 2019, E. Jean Carroll, a former Elle magazine columnist, sued him for defamation after he denied her accusation that he raped her in a New York department store in the 1990s, saying she is “not my type” and “it never happened.”
Shortly before Trump left office on Jan. 20, the Justice Department argued in court that as president, Trump was an “employee of the government” and could not be sued. But now that he is a private citizen, he can no longer claim immunity, Wehle said.
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, the reality show hosted by Trump that premiered in 2004, sued him for calling her a liar after she accused him of sexually assaulting her in 2007. Last week, Zervos asked a New York court to allow her lawsuit to proceed now that Trump is out of office.
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