The legal woes of former US president Donald Trump explained | SBS News

New York state’s attorney general Letitia James filed a civil suit on Wednesday against Donald Trump and three of his children, accusing them of business fraud.
It was the latest development in multiple civil, criminal and congressional probes into the former US president.

The 76-year-old is also being investigated for his role in last year’s US Capitol attack, his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and the stashing of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Here are some of the key investigations weighing on the one-term president as he eyes another run for the White House in 2024:

Capitol attack

A series of explosive hearings by the House of Representatives panel probing the attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters on 6 January, 2021 offered a roadmap for potentially charging the ex-president with a crime.

The politicians leading the hearings presented their case that Mr Trump knew he lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden, yet pressed his claims of fraud and ultimately brought his supporters to Washington for a rally that ended with a violent assault on Congress.

Rioters clash with police trying to enter the Capitol building through the front doors on 6 January 2021. Rioters broke windows and breached the Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election. Source: Getty / (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The House select committee also uncovered evidence of alleged misconduct by Mr Trump leading up to the insurrection, including his attempt to co-opt government departments into his bid to overturn the election.

The politicians’ work is separate from a criminal probe that the Justice Department has launched into the unrest and the events leading up to it.

Besides the legal ramifications, an unprecedented prosecution of a former chief executive would likely cause a political earthquake in a country already starkly divided along partisan Democratic and Republican lines.

‘Find’ the votes

Mr Trump is being investigated for pressuring officials in the southern swing state of Georgia to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 victory – including a now-notorious taped phone call in which he asked the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to reverse the result.

Fulton County’s top prosecutor Fani Willis has assembled a special grand jury that could see Mr Trump facing conspiracy charges connected to election fraud and interference.

Ms Willis has already amassed significant testimony from members of Trump’s inner circle, including his former personal lawyer, ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The Trump Organisation

The civil suit filed by Letitia James, the New York state attorney general, against Mr Trump and three of his children – Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump, accuses them of overvaluing multiple assets to secure loans and then undervaluing them to minimise taxes.

Ms James is seeking $250 million in penalties as well as banning Mr Trump and his children from serving as executives at companies in New York.

The attorney general is also seeking to bar Mr Trump and his company, The Trump Organisation, from purchasing property in the state for five years.
She also said her office was making a criminal referral to the US Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr Trump denounced the suit as “another Witch Hunt by a racist Attorney General.”

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Local law enforcement officers are seen in front of the home of former President Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida on 9 August, 2022. Source: AFP / (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

Raid on Florida residence

An FBI search of Mr Trump’s palatial Mar-a-Lago home in Florida in August turned up classified documents taken to his estate when he left office in January 2021.
The raid, which was personally approved by US Attorney General Merrick Garland, was triggered by a review of classified records that Mr Trump finally surrendered to authorities in January this year, after months of back and forth with the National Archives.

The Justice Department started investigating after the 15 boxes were found to contain national defence information, including 184 documents marked as confidential, secret or top secret.

The FBI, in the affidavit used to justify the raid, said it was conducting a criminal investigation into “improper removal and storage of classified information” and “unlawful concealment of government records.”
The search warrant said the investigation was also related to “wilful retention of national defence information,” an offence that falls under the Espionage Act, and potential “obstruction of a federal investigation.”

Mr Trump has been trying to impede the criminal investigation into the possession of these documents, but it started to unravel after courtroom setbacks, including doubts expressed by judges about the former US president’s claim that he declassified records seized at his Florida home.

A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled that federal investigators could immediately resume examining the classified records, reversing Florida-based US District Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to wall off these documents while an independent arbiter assesses whether any should be withheld as privileged.
Mr Trump may appeal the 11th Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court, but experts doubted the justices would agree to hear it. The 11th Circuit’s panel included two judges appointed by the former president.
Mr Trump has not been charged with any crime and the mere existence of an investigation does not mean he will be.
As part of his counterattack against the investigation, he has made public claims that he personally declassified the seized records.

“If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it’s declassified, even by thinking it,” Mr Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.