Analysis: Trump’s legal troubles far from over as Mueller probe ends
The conclusion of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign hardly spells the end of President Donald Trump’s legal woes.
Nearly every organization Trump has run over the last decade remains under investigation by state or federal authorities, and he is mired in a variety of civil litigation, including a lawsuit filed in New York state by a former contestant on his reality television show that could force him to answer questions under oath later this year about his treatment of women.
Here’s a look at some of the legal issues still facing Trump even as the dark cloud of the 22-month-long Mueller cloud lifts.
Campaign hush money payments
Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance law by arranging pre-election payments to two women who said they had extramarital affairs with Trump. Cohen told a federal judge that his actions were intended to silence the women to help Trump win the election. Cohen said he had been directed by Trump, who was referred to in court documents drawn up by federal prosecutors in Manhattan as “individual one.”
The status of the investigation is a bit murky. Cohen will next month begin serving a three-year prison term for his involvement in the scheme as well as various financial crimes and for lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. When Cohen was sentenced, prosecutors announced they had reached a settlement with American Media Inc., the company that publishes the National Enquirer, for its role in paying off one of the two women – a possible sign the investigation into the payments had been concluded.
But Cohen told Congress recently that a number of other Trump Organization officials were aware of the hush-money arrangement, including longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg, who was granted immunity by federal prosecutors to provide information in the Cohen case, has not commented.
Cohen, in his public testimony, also fueled additional speculation when he said he was aware of other potentially illegal behavior by Trump that he could not discuss because he believed it remained the subject of ongoing investigation by New York prosecutors.
Summer Zervos, a former “Apprentice” contestant, was one of about a dozen women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct before the 2016 election. She filed suit against Trump in New York in 2017, arguing that Trump defamed her when he called his accusers “liars.”
A New York appellate court earlier this month denied a request by Trump to dismiss the suit, allowing it to move forward. Trump’s lawyers had argued that presidents are immune from lawsuits filed in state court while they are in office, and their defeat in the Zervos case has broad implications for other lawsuits that might be filed against him.
Trump’s lawyers have said they plan to appeal, but if the ruling stands, it means Trump would likely have to sit for a deposition in the matter in coming months. He would face questions about Zervos’s allegations – she has said that Trump groped her and kissed her without consent during a 2007 encounter in a Los Angeles hotel room that she had believed was supposed to be a business meeting.
Her lawyers would probably seek to ask the president questions about his treatment of other women. Trump could face serious consequences if he were to lie in the deposition. The impeachment of President Bill Clinton began after he was accused of lying in a deposition in a civil sexual harassment suit filed by Paula Jones.
Trump is facing two federal lawsuits alleging that he has violated the Constitution because his private company continues to do business with foreign governments.
Trump’s D.C. hotel, down the street from the White House, has already hosted parties put on by the Kuwaiti, Azerbaijani and Philippine embassies, and it rented more than 500 rooms to lobbyists for the Saudi government starting just after the 2016 election. Trump’s hotel in Chicago has also hosted a national day celebration by the Romanian consulate. The Trump Organization has said it made $191,000 in profit from foreign governments last year and donated that amount to the U.S. Treasury. But it has not specified who its foreign customers are and how much they paid in total.
The Constitution prohibits presidents from taking “emoluments” from foreign states, or the government of individual U.S. states.
One of the lawsuits was filed by the attorneys general from Maryland and the District of Columbia. A lower-court judge said that the attorneys general could ask the Trump International Hotel in Washington for information on its foreign clients – but that “discovery” process has been halted while a higher court considers Trump’s appeal.
Trump has argued that the framers of the Constitution intended only to bar outright bribes and not business transactions conducted at market rates.
Another lawsuit, filed by congressional Democrats, is also proceeding – but is at an earlier stage of the legal process. If either succeeds, the plaintiffs could bring to light the Trump Organization’s list of foreign-government customers. The company has declined to reveal that list. Trump still owns his businesses, although he has handed over day-to-day control to his sons Don Jr. and Eric, and company executive Weisselberg.
The Trump inauguration
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan sent a subpoena in February to the presidential inaugural committee, the entity that organized Trump’s $107 million festivities when he took office in January 2017. The request sought a broad range of records covering nearly every aspect of the committee’s activities, including documents related to its record-setting fundraising, vendor payments, perks for donors and other communications.
It also requested all records related to one specific donor, a California-based venture capital firm run by a major Democratic donor who switched sides after Trump’s victory and gave $900,000 to the Trump inaugural. That man, Imaad Zuberi, has denied any wrongdoing.
In addition, the committee has also received subpoenas from state attorneys general offices in New Jersey and D.C., which are each investigating whether the not-for-profit committee’s spending fulfilled its charitable aims.
New York state investigations
Trump and his company are facing a battery of investigations from state authorities in New York, where the Trump Organization is headquartered.
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) is suing Trump in state court because of what the state called “persistently illegal conduct” at Trump’s 30-year-old charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation. The suit says that Trump used the charity’s money to buy paintings of himself, to pay off legal settlements for his for-profit businesses, and to give his own presidential campaign a boost during the 2016 Republican primaries.
“The evidence shows that the Foundation’s charitable assets were repeatedly used for the personal benefit of Mr. Trump,” the attorney general’s office wrote in a recent filing. Trump and his children Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric have also been sued; they were all technically members of a charity “board” that hadn’t met since 1999, the attorney general’s office says.
In that case, Trump has agreed to shutter the foundation, but the case is still pending. The attorney general is seeking millions in penalties and restitutions, and seeking to ban Trump from serving on the board of any New York charity for 10 years.
In addition, Trump’s company appears to be the focus of two new state inquiries that followed the congressional testimony by Cohen. Cohen told a House committee in February that Trump had submitted inflated summaries of his assets to both insurers and would-be lenders, seeking to mislead them about the state of his net worth.
After that, state authorities sent subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and another bank that loaned money to Trump, and to Aon, Trump’s longtime insurance broker. One person familiar with the subpoena to Aon said that Cohen’s account – and the “statements of financial condition” that he said Trump used to inflate his assets – were “a key component” of the state’s inquiry.
Use of immigrant labor
State investigators in both New York and New Jersey have spoken to an attorney for undocumented immigrants who worked for years at Trump’s golf clubs, according to the attorney. In January, the company fired at least 18 workers – many of them longtime employees – after an audit found that their immigration documents were fraudulent.
Neither the New York nor the New Jersey attorney general has commented on these cases or confirm that they had opened a formal investigation.
Roger Stone criminal trial
Trump’s longtime friend and former political strategist Roger Stone is set to go to trial in November for allegedly lying to Congress about his efforts to find out what material WikiLeaks held before the 2016 election.
The anti-secrecy site upended the campaign in by publishing emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta, that prosecutors have said were stolen by Russian operatives.
Stone was charged jointly by Mueller’s office and prosecutors in Washington.
The special counsel has made no announcements about how his case will be handled now that his investigation has concluded, but the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office is expected to take the lead.
Stone has pleaded not guilty and said he intends to fight the charges. The trial will showcase evidence of the Trump campaign’s eagerness to leverage WikiLeaks’ stolen documents for political benefit. Prosecutors have said that Stone communicated campaign officials including adviser Stephen K. Bannon, about WikiLeaks.