Legal dangers mount for Trump as he campaigns toward 2024

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Secret payments. Classified documents. And now, his attempts to overturn the 2020 election that led to the attack on the Capitol. Donald Trump, already facing criminal cases in New York and Florida, finds himself in increasing legal danger as investigations into his struggle to cling to power following his electoral defeat appear to be coming to a head.

A court notice sent to Trump by special counsel Jack Smith that he is the subject of a criminal investigation indicates that he could soon be indicted on new federal charges, adding to the remarkable situation of a former president facing possible prison time as he competes to recapture the White House as the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

Smith's sweeping investigation into the chaotic weeks between Trump's election loss and his supporters' attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 appears to be drawing to a close just as another case could be on the horizon. A grand jury sworn in this month in Georgia will likely consider whether to indict Trump and his Republican allies for their attempts to reverse their electoral defeat in the state.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing in all cases and dismisses the allegations as attempts to damage his campaign toward the 2024 election.

Here's a look at the January 6 investigation, the legal cases Trump is already facing, and what could happen next:


The team led by Smith, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in November, has questioned a host of former White House officials, Trump allies, lawyers and state election officials both in voluntary interviews and before the investigative jury that has been meeting behind closed doors in Washington. Among those who have testified before the jury — which would ultimately return any indictment — is Mike Pence, Trump's vice president, who has spoken at length in public about the former president's attempts to pressure him into rejecting President Joe Biden's election victory.

Smith's team appears to be especially interested in a meeting that occurred at the White House late at night on December 18, 2020—and was described as “disrupted” by an aide—in which Trump's private lawyers suggested that he order the US military to seize state voting machines in an unprecedented effort to pursue his false claims of voter fraud.

In videos shown by the US House Committee investigating the January 6 attack, a White House lawyer said he thought the idea was "insane." Justices — including some Trump appointees — consistently rejected Trump's claims of alleged voter fraud.

Smith has also questioned witnesses about the machinations of Trump associates to recruit collegiate voters in battleground states to sign certificates claiming that Trump — and not Biden — had won their states. The bogus certificates of collegiate voters were mailed to the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and to Congress, where some Republicans used them to try to justify delaying or blocking election certification.

Smith's team has also shown interest in the account of a Georgia poll worker, Ruby Freeman, who along with her daughter have said she has lived in fear following death threats she received after Trump and his allies falsely accused them of removing fraudulent ballots from a suitcase in Georgia. That interest is to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation, according to a person familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


It's unclear when the Smith investigation might end. Trump said he was invited to appear before the grand jury this week, although the targets of the investigations do not have to testify and rarely agree to do so. The jury, which meets in secret, will end up voting on whether there is enough evidence to charge him with a crime. A federal grand jury is made up of between 16 and 23 people, and at least 12 must agree to bring an indictment.

Among the possible charges that legal experts have said Trump could face are conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of an official proceeding: Congressional certification of Biden's election victory. Hundreds of the more than 1,000 people charged with federal crimes in the January 6 riots have been charged with the crime of obstruction, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

If indicted in the Jan. 6 case, Trump could face a challenging group of jurors in an overwhelmingly Democratic Washington, whose residents — many of whom work on Capitol Hill — got a front-row seat to the chaos that ensued after Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell.”

Many January 6 protesters have unsuccessfully tried to have their trials moved out of the nation's capital, claiming that Trump supporters cannot receive a fair trial there. Only two defendants have been acquitted of all charges after trials, and those were trials decided by a judge, not a jury.

In the most serious Jan. 6 cases filed so far, jurors convicted the leaders of two radical far-right groups — the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys — on seditious conspiracy and other charges of what prosecutors described as plotting to block the transfer of power from Trump to Biden. More than 600 other Jan. 6 defendants have pleaded guilty to federal crimes.


Trump pleaded not guilty last month to 37 federal felony counts accusing him of illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida mansion and refusing government demands to return them. A judge in that case heard arguments Tuesday about whether that trial — which would take place in Florida — should take place before or after the 2024 election. As prosecutors seek a December trial date, Trump's lawyers have pushed for it to be delayed indefinitely, arguing he cannot receive a fair trial while he campaigns for president.

In New York state court, a trial is scheduled to begin in March — at the height of primary election season — in another case against Trump brought by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who alleges a scheme to bury extramarital affairs allegations that surfaced during his first campaign for the White House. Trump pleaded not guilty in that case to 34 felony counts of falsifying internal business records at his private company over a hush money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels. Trump was trying to move the case to federal court, but a judge ruled against it on Wednesday.

In Georgia, Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney who has been investigating Trump and his allies for their efforts to overturn his election loss in that state, is expected to present her case before one of two grand juries sworn in earlier this month. Willis has suggested that any indictment would likely come in August. A separate special jury — which had no prosecution power and was dissolved in January — submitted a report with recommendations to Willis. Although most of that report remains under wraps for now, the panel chairman has said, without naming names, that the special investigative jury recommended indicting several people.

Meanwhile, the Michigan state attorney general on Tuesday filed felony charges, including forgery, against 16 Republicans who acted as fake collegiate voters for Trump in 2020, accusing them of producing false certificates claiming they were legitimate collegiate voters despite Biden's victory there.

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Nathan Rivera
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