June 13, 2024 4:43 pm

How big are Donald Trump’s legal problems?

Donald Trump has been indicted twice and is being investigated on several other fronts, meaning more criminal charges could be on the way.

This is where the key cases stand and what they could mean for the former president and frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination.

Classified documents

What are the charges?

Mr Trump is facing 37 criminal charges over his alleged mishandling of classified material after he left the White House.

Thousands of documents were seized in an FBI search at his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago last year, including about 100 that were marked as classified.

The charges are related to both his handling of the documents and his alleged efforts to obstruct the FBI’s attempts to retrieve them.

The majority of the counts, 31, are for the wilful retention of national defence information, which falls under the Espionage Act.

There are then six individual counts which include conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record and making false statements.

Will Donald Trump go to jail?

These charges could – in theory – lead to substantial prison time if Mr Trump is convicted.

But the logistics, security and politics of jailing a former president mean a conventional prison sentence is seen as unlikely by many experts.

Looking at the letter of the law, the 31 counts under the Espionage Act, for example, each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Four other counts, related to conspiracy and withholding or concealing documents, each carry maximum sentences of 20 years.

The last two counts – scheme to conceal, and false statements and representations – carry sentences of five years each.

But while there is no doubt the charges are serious, many questions remain unanswered about the potential penalties should he be convicted.

What will his defence be?

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and the trial is set to begin in May 2024.

The former president has offered shifting defences for the material found at his property, mostly arguing that he declassified it. No evidence has been provided that this was possible or is true.

His lawyers may argue in court that Mr Trump was unfairly targeted and that other politicians, namely Hillary Clinton, Mike Pence and current President Joe Biden, were never charged for their handling of classified documents.

But experts say the former president’s case is different in a number of ways. For one, other politicians were willing to return whatever documents they had, while prosecutors allege Mr Trump resisted.


New York hush money

What are the charges?

Mr Trump is facing 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.

The charges stem from a hush-money payment made before the 2016 election to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, who says she had an adulterous affair with Mr Trump.

While such a payment is not illegal, spending money to help a presidential campaign but not disclosing it violates federal campaign finance law.

What are the potential penalties?

Each of the charges carries a maximum of four years in prison, although a judge could sentence Mr Trump to probation if he is convicted.

Legal experts have told BBC News they think it is unlikely Mr Trump will be jailed if convicted in this case and a fine is the more likely outcome.

What will his defence be?

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty and is due to stand trial in the case in March.

He denies ever having sexual relations with Ms Daniels and says the payment was made to protect his family from false allegations, not to sway the election.

Capitol riot and 2020 election

What are the charges?

Mr Trump has not been charged in connection with the federal investigation into efforts to undermine the 2020 election that culminated in the riot at the US Capitol.

But he has received a letter indicating that he is a target of the investigation, which is often a sign that an indictment may be imminent.

And until a potential indictment is unsealed we will not know the specific charges. But some media reports give an indication of what they could be.

Reporting from The New York Times and others, citing people familiar with the investigation, suggest possible charges include: conspiracy to defraud the US, corruptly obstructing an official proceeding, insurrection, and tampering with a witness.

Some reports also state the target letter includes a rare civil-rights charge, conspiring to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person” in the “free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States”.

What are the potential penalties?

These reported charges carry a range of penalties, including prison time:

  • Conspiracy to defraud the US is punishable by a fine or up to five years in prison
  • Obstructing an official proceeding is punishable by a fine or up to 20 years in prison
  • Tampering with a witness is also punishable by a fine or up to 20 years in prison
  • The civil-rights charge is punishable by a fine or up to one year in prison
  • Insurrection, which is a rarer and more complicated statute, is punishable by a fine and up to ten years or prison. It also bars anyone convicted of it from holding future office

But the same logistic, security and political questions remain around whether Mr Trump would serve time even if charged and convicted.

What will his defence be?

Unsurprisingly, if Mr Trump is indicted, his defence will likely hinge on the specific charges against him.

But he has repeatedly denied responsibility for the riot on 6 January 2021.

His legal team are also likely to argue that the former president is not directly responsible for the violence that unfolded that day because he told supporters to march “peacefully” on the Capitol.


Georgia 2020 election

What are the charges?

No charges have been filed as prosecutors investigate whether Mr Trump and others acted illegally to try and and overturn his narrow loss in Georgia in 2020.

A key focus of the investigation is a phone call between the former president and Georgia’s chief elections officer, in which Mr Trump suggested local officials could “find” more than 11,000 votes.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Wallis, the Democrat who launched the investigation, has hinted that any charges would probably be filed in August.

To bring criminal charges, Ms Willis and her team must present her case to a grand jury which will then vote on whether to indict.

And based on current reporting, potential charges include the solicitation of election fraud, making false statements to government officials, and racketeering.

What are the potential penalties?

There is a long list of possible charges in the case and, until a grand jury decides to indict, we won’t know what they are for sure.

But reports suggest racketeering, which is mostly used in organised crime cases, could be among the most serious.

Ms Willis would need to prove that there was a pattern of corruption from Mr Trump and his allies aimed at overturning the election result in order to bring this charge, which carries penalties of up to 20 years in prison and a fine.

As for making false statements, that carries a penalty of between one to five years in prison or a fine.

And a person convicted of first-degree criminal solicitation to commit election fraud will face between one to three years in jail.

What will his defence be?

Once again, it will no doubt depend on the specific charges, but Mr Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the case.

He has defended the phone call in question as “perfect” and accused Ms Wallis of launching a politically motivated inquiry.

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