Once Donald Trump leaves office he loses protection from prosecution and one state is already investigating criminal charges.
Once Donald Trump leaves office he loses protection from prosecution and one state is already investigating criminal charges.

Trump’s legal woes just beginning

Sitting presidents have long been protected from prosecution while in office but once Donald Trump's term ends, he could face criminal charges.

Mr Trump has already made history as the first US president to be impeached twice but there could be more pain in store.

Once a president leaves office they can face federal charges for any criminal wrongdoing that happened while they were in office and can also be investigated for income tax evasion.

But even if there is evidence of tax evasion against Mr Trump, the political backlash involved in charging him means it's unlikely Joe Biden will authorise the Federal Government to take such an unprecedented step, York University Professor Thomas Klassen explains in The Conversation .

Prof Klassen noted that the political cost to prosecute an ex-president was extraordinarily high.

"And also runs the risk of making him a martyr to his base," he wrote.

It's more likely that Mr Trump will face state charges as there will be a greater distance with the White House.

For around two years, the state of New York has been conducting criminal investigations into Mr Trump and his businesses.

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It's still unclear whether the office of the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr, will bring charges against Mr Trump but prosecutors have been fighting in court for more than a year to get Mr Trump's personal and corporate tax returns.

The President has tried to block the release of these records and the Supreme Court is considering the issue.

The investigation by Mr Vance, who last year succeeded in his case against Harvey Weinstein, is the only known criminal inquiry into the President.

Not much has been revealed about it because grand jury rules require secrecy but court papers have revealed the inquiry is examining possible insurance, tax and bank-related fraud in Mr Trump's corporate dealings. It is also looking into falsification of business records.

A separate civil investigation into tax fraud by Mr Trump and his company is also being pursued by the state.

Initially, the criminal investigation looked at the Trump Organisation's role in hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign, The New York Times reported.

The money was alleged to have been given to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Mr Trump but one of the issues was how the company recorded a reimbursement to the President's former lawyer and "fixer" Michael D Cohen for one of the payments.

Mr Cohen was sentenced to three years jail in 2018 after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and tax evasion.

Afterwards, Mr Cohen turned on Mr Trump, testifying before the House Oversight Committee that: "It was my experience that Mr Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes (magazine), and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes".

This has been another line of inquiry for prosecutors, who have justified their investigation in court documents by pointing to public reports of Mr Trump's business dealings, including a Washington Post article that suggested the President may have inflated estimates of his net worth and the value of his properties to lenders and insurers.

Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has described the inquiry as a politically motivated "witch hunt".

Supporters have also noted that Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2018 and suggest he is lying again to reduce his prison sentence.

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In November, The New York Times reported Mr Vance's office had subpoenaed the Trump Organisation for records about tax write-offs related to million-dollar consulting fees, some of which may have been paid to the President's daughter Ivanka Trump.

At the time, Ms Trump was an executive officer of the Trump companies that made the payments, which suggest she was paid as a consultant while working for the Trump Organisation.

However, there is no suggestion Ms Trump is the subject of the investigation and she has called the inquiry "harassment pure and simple".

According to The New York Times, Mr Trump has discussed granting pre-emptive pardons to his eldest children before he leaves office. He also claims to have the power to pardon himself but this authority appears to apply only to federal crimes, and not to state or local investigations, such as the one being conducted by Mr Vance.

OTHER CIVIL CHARGES

Two women are also suing Mr Trump for defamation after he called them liars for accusing him of sexually assaulting them before he became President.

According to Prof Klassen, it's probable these cases will result in a monetary payment or an apology.

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Trump's legal woes just beginning