Possible Trump Indictment After Decades03/22 06:19
NEW YORK (AP) -- For 40 years, former President Donald Trump has navigated
countless legal investigations without ever facing criminal charges. That
record may soon come to an end.
Trump could be indicted by a Manhattan grand jury as soon as this week,
potentially charged with falsifying business records connected to hush money
payments during his 2016 campaign to women who accused him of sexual encounters.
It's one of several investigations that have intensified as Trump mounts his
third presidential run. He has denied any allegations of wrongdoing and accuses
prosecutors of engaging in a politically motivated "witch hunt" to damage his
An indictment in New York would mark an extraordinary turn in American
history, making Trump the first former president to face a criminal charge. And
it would carry tremendous weight for Trump himself, threatening his
long-established ability to avoid consequences despite entanglement in a
dizzying number of cases.
Indictment, says biographer Michael D'Antonio, would be a "shocking event,
both because of the fact that a former president is being indicted for the
first time, but also because one of the slipperiest people at the highest level
of business, whose devotion to abusing the system is so well established, is
"Throughout his life, he has done things for which he could have been
investigated and potentially prosecuted and learned from those experiences that
he could act with impunity," he said.
Trump first faced legal scrutiny in the 1970s when the Department of Justice
brought a racial discrimination case against his family's real estate business.
Trump and his father fiercely fought the suit, which accused them of
refusing to rent apartments to Black tenants in predominantly white buildings.
Testimony showed that applications filed by prospective Black tenants were
marked with a "C" for "colored." Trump counter-sued for $100 million, accusing
the government of defamation.
The case ended with a settlement that opened the way for some Black tenants
but did not force the Trumps to explicitly acknowledge they had "failed and
neglected" to comply with the Fair Housing Act.
Since then, Trump and his businesses have been the subject of thousands of
civil lawsuits and numerous investigations. There have been probes into his
casino and real estate dealings, allegations of bribery and improper lobbying,
fraud allegations against the now-defunct Trump University and charitable Trump
Foundation and a probe by the Manhattan district attorney into sales at the
Trump SoHo hotel-condominium in Lower Manhattan.
Indeed, according Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a
government watchdog group abbreviated CREW, as of November 2022, Trump had been
accused of committing at least 56 criminal offenses since he launched his
campaign in 2015, not including allegations of fraudulent business dealings.
But he has never been formally indicted.
Trump is a master of delay tactics, "finding ways to endlessly delay in the
hopes that the investigation and litigation will go away. And he's had
remarkable success," says CREW president Noah Bookbinder, a former federal
"It makes accountability absolutely essential because we can't have people
in a functioning democracy operating in positions of power with total impunity
where they can commit crimes and never have to face any consequences," he said.
Trump's retort to such strong talk: He commits no crimes, so consequences
would themselves be unjust.
As president, Trump continued to face legal scrutiny. For two years, the
Justice Department investigated his 2016 campaign's ties to Russia. While
special counsel Robert Mueller never found direct evidence of collusion, his
final report did lay out evidence for obstruction. He noted that, because of a
department opinion that bars indicting a sitting president, he couldn't
recommend Trump be criminally charged, even in secret.
Since Trump left office, the investigations have circled ever closer.
In January, his namesake company was fined $1.6 million for tax crimes,
including conspiracy and falsifying business records. The company's longtime
executive, Allen Weisselberg, is currently serving jail time as punishment for
dodging taxes on job perks.
Additional cases are still being pursued. In Georgia, Fulton County District
Attorney Fani Willis has been investigating whether Trump and his allies
illegally meddled in the 2020 election. The foreperson of a special grand jury,
which heard from dozens of witnesses. said last month that the panel had
recommended that numerous people be indicted, and hinted Trump could be among
them. It is ultimately up to Willis to decide whether to move forward.
In Washington, Trump is under scrutiny from special counsel Jack Smith for
his handling -- allegations say mishandling -- of classified documents after
leaving office, as well as for his much-publicized efforts to stay in power,
despite his 2020 election loss. Justice Department lawyers in the documents
probe have said they have amassed evidence of potential crimes involving
Trump's retention of national defense information as well as potential efforts
to obstruct their work.
Some legal experts have questioned the wisdom of having the Manhattan case
be the first brought against Trump, when more serious charges could be looming.
Trump is expected to be charged with falsifying business records, a misdemeanor
unless prosecutors can prove it was done to conceal another crime. And the case
dates back years.
"Clearly it's not the cleanest criminal case that could be brought of all of
them that are existing right now," said Michael Weinstein, an attorney and
former Justice Department prosecutor, who said Trump would likely use its
potential weaknesses to his political advantage.
"By this case coming first, it gives him a opening to go on offense and
attack, which for him is the only way he knows," Weinstein said.
Still, he said the possible charges felt like a natural culmination of the
"unbelievable array of investigations" the former president "has lived through
and battled for the last 40 years."
"There's a history and pattern of him saying and doing things without
resulting in any consequences," Weinstein said. "After 40 years, do the
criminal chickens come home to roost? He's been fighting a long time, and it
could be in the next 12 months he's facing two or three criminal cases that
carry serious criminal liability for him."
The New York case involves payments made by Trump's former lawyer, Michael
Cohen, who served prison time after pleading guilty in 2018 to federal charges,
to porn actor Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal. Cohen was reimbursed by
Trump, whose company logged the reimbursements as "legal expenses."
Politically, Trump allies believe the case actually will benefit the former
president in the short term by energizing his base in a competitive Republican
primary, and would provide another boost later on if it ultimately fails to
yield a conviction.
"The prosecutor in New York has done more to help Donald Trump get elected,"
says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., echoing other GOP officials, who have also
argued the probe will likely help Trump in the short term, even if it could
prove damaging in a general election.
An indictment wouldn't stop Trump from continuing his campaign. There is no
prohibition against running while facing criminal charges -- or even following
conviction. Indeed, convicted felons have run for president before, including
from behind bars.
"It boggles the mind to think that we have an ex-president on the eve of
being indicted still the frontrunner for the Republican Party in 2024," says
presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. "You would have thought (potentially)
being arrested would have been a disqualifying factor in presidential politics.
But Trump constantly surprises people by his devious and inappropriate behavior
that he transcends by turning it into being a victim of a witch hunt."