LAST SUMMER the Supreme Court rejected Donald Trump’s assertion of “absolute immunity” from being investigated while in office. Cyrus Vance, Manhattan’s district attorney, had subpoenaed Mazars USA, Mr Trump’s accounting firm, for financial records, which the then-president wanted to keep private. “[N]o citizen, not even the president”, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a 7-2 majority, “is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding.” But the Supreme Court gave Mr Trump a lifeline: one more chance to make less outlandish arguments against the subpoena in the lower courts. Mr Trump lost again, and on October 13th ran once more to the justices for relief. An unusual four months of radio silence ensued from the high court, but word finally came on February 22nd, when the justices rejected Mr Trump’s plea.
Eight years of the former president’s financial records filed at Mazars will now be boxed up and shipped to Mr Vance. The investigation began as a probe into alleged hush-money payoffs made in 2016 to an adult-film star and a former Playboy model, to prevent revelations of affairs that could have dented Mr Trump’s presidential hopes (Mr Trump denies the allegations). The inquiry appears to have broadened. A task-force is ready to sort through reams of documents that Mazars is about to send over.
Whether Mr Trump or members of his family might face criminal indictments is still unclear; Mr Vance won’t know how strong a case he has until the documents arrive. But last week the district attorney enlisted the help of Mark Pomerantz, an experienced federal prosecutor specialising in organised and white-collar crime. Potential charges, if evidence is found, could include scheming to defraud, falsification of business records, insurance fraud and criminal tax fraud. Some of these are felonies carrying penalties of up to 25 years.
Other troubles await Mr Trump in New York that could cost him money, if not freedom. Drawing on the testimony of Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former lawyer, to Congress, New York’s attorney-general, Letitia James, is investigating what she says may be fraudulent business practices in which the Trump Organisation allegedly inflated the value of its assets when applying for loans and deflated them to evade tax liability. The Trump Organisation says Ms James’s inquiry is politically motivated. Mr Trump’s son Eric, the company’s executive vice-president, has dismissed it as an “anti-Trump fishing expedition”—a charge that Mr Trump has also levelled against Mr Vance’s investigations.
More civil lawsuits are pending in New York, including claims from E. Jean Carroll, a former columnist, and Summer Zervos, a contestant on “The Apprentice”, Mr Trump’s hit television show. Ms Carroll wrote in 2019 that Mr Trump raped her in the dressing room of a Manhattan department store; Ms Zervos said he sexually harassed her on set. Both hit the president with defamation lawsuits when he called them liars. Moments after his second impeachment on January 13th, Ms Carroll tweeted: “Trump tore our democracy. I’m going to tear him to shreds in court.”
Two of the many corners of the constitution Mr Trump’s administration brought to public attention are the domestic and foreign emoluments clauses—provisions designed to prevent presidents from profiting from their office. Several lawsuits tried to enforce this norm against Mr Trump—whose businesses seemed to reap windfalls from foreign states buying space in his towers and other properties—to little avail. But Karl Racine, the attorney-general of Washington, DC, is pursuing similar charges on another legal hook. Mr Racine says some members of the Trump family made a sweet deal with themselves when the inaugural committee—a tax-exempt charity—used non-profit funds to pay the Trump International Hotel $175,000 a day to host events during the 2017 inauguration. This, Mr Racine says, is a violation of District of Columbia law governing the operation of non-profit organisations. On January 11th, Mr Racine tacked on another allegation: that the non-profit footed the bill for a $49,000 payment that should have been issued by the Trump Organisation, a for-profit business.
The basis of Mr Trump’s second impeachment—instigating the Capitol insurrection—may implicate District of Columbia law, too, as well as a federal criminal statute. Persuading someone to use “physical force against the person or property of another” is a federal crime; sparking a riot is a crime under DC law. Given the broad scope for free speech set by the First Amendment, however, it may be hard to make criminal charges stick. The legal test is whether Mr Trump is guilty of inciting a specific lawless action, as opposed to just general exhortation. Jed Shugerman of Fordham law school notes another conceivable fount of lawsuits stemming from Mr Trump’s actions on January 6th: civil tort claims from families of the six people who died in the mayhem.
Mr Trump also finds himself in legal jeopardy for the hour-long phone call he made to Georgia’s secretary of state on January 2nd urging him to find enough votes for him to flip the state, and its 16 electoral votes, into his column. This month Fani Willis—the district attorney for Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta—alerted state officials of a pending investigation and asked them to preserve documents pertaining to “attempts to influence” the outcome of Georgia’s presidential election. Ms Wills is looking into election fraud, conspiracy, racketeering and possible threats to manipulate the vote totals in the state.
Still another legal inquiry may await Mr Trump. Mr Shugerman says New York could subpoena witnesses to an earlier attempt to interfere with the 2020 election: Mr Trump’s phone call in July 2019 asking Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, the son of his eventual rival. Tying security assistance to the announcement of an investigation was the basis of Mr Trump’s first impeachment; it could constitute extortion and criminal conspiracy under New York law.
During Mr Trump’s final days in office, many wondered if the outgoing president would follow through on inklings to issue himself a pardon—a move no president has ever dared. He did not attempt such legal onanism, but even had he issued a self-pardon, it would not have saved him from answering to transgressions of state laws. Days of reckoning, it seems, are coming.