Donald Trump’s Indictments, Lawsuits, and Legal Cases, Explained – Rolling Stone

Trump Legal Woes Explainer


There are plenty of reasons Trump wants to reclaim the White House in 2024, but high on the list is the belief that as president, he will be able to sabotage the myriad criminal and civil investigations hanging over his head. 

Trump’s 2024 campaign will take place amongst a series of legal battles aimed at securing accountability for his conduct both in and out of office. The former president has already been charged in two criminal cases, and a third indictment resulting from the Justice Department’s investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election could be coming soon.

In June, the DOJ indicted Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents probe. The 40 charges brought by the DOJ include offenses related to the unlawful retention of classified national security information, as well as conspiracy to obstruct justice, corruptly concealing a record or document, false statements and representations, and attempting to destroy evidentiary material.

The DOJ’s charges were the second criminal case brought against Trump this year, the first being 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to a 2016 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. 

Trump views the controversy surrounding his hush money payments to porn stars, classified documents, efforts to undermine the 2020 election, and allegations of corporate fraud as part of a grand conspiracy to prevent him from retaking what he feels is his rightful place as head of government. 

For months now, the former president has been attempting to brand the investigations into him as a form of “election interference.” In late July “Trump declared that he would continue his run for office even if convicted and sentenced. “There’s nothing in the Constitution to say that it could [prevent me from running]” he told radio host John Fredricks. 

The list of probes, prosecutors, and government bodies investigating the former president is long, and takes on a bewildering level of complexity when one factors in the nearly constant stream of subpoenas, letters, lawsuits, and insider reports emerging on a near daily basis. 

To help make heads or tails of what exactly Trump is being investigated for, what he’s been charged with, and when pending investigations are likely to move forward, we’ve prepared a guide to the six biggest cases against Trump, and the potential consequences they may bring.

Election Interference and Jan. 6 

Special Counsel Jack Smith is overseeing a probe into Trump’s actions in the aftermath of the 2020 election, and his role in the events of Jan. 6. For months the investigation operated in the shadow of the Mar-a-Lago probe, but Smith’s grand jury seems to be rapidly approaching a final charging decision. 

On July 18, Trump announced he’d been sent a letter from the DOJ informing him that he was the target of a criminal investigation — a sign that charges may be imminent. Sources with knowledge of the matter told Rolling Stone that the letter mentioned three federal statutes: Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States; deprivation of rights under color of law; and tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant.

Days later, Trump’s attorneys met with Smith’s team in Washington, D.C., in a virtual replay of the events that preceded his indictment in the DOJ’s Mar-a-Lago probe. It was reported that prosecutors told Trump’s team to expect an indictment soon. Trump relayed his own description of the meeting on Truth Social, writing that his attorneys had “a productive meeting with the DOJ this morning” and that “no indication of notice was given during the meeting — Do not trust the Fake News on anything!”

Smith’s investigation extends well beyond Trump. The special counsel has subpoenaed everyone from former Vice President Mike Pence to ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon, with Mark Meadows also reportedly serving a key role in both of Smith’s investigations. The former Trump chief of staff was present at a now-infamous Dec. 2020 Oval Office gathering that has been reported to be a focus of the investigation. Former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidey Powell, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn also attended the meeting, during which participants allegedly discussed desperate, last ditch efforts to ensure Trump would remain in power, including seizing voting machines and invoking martial law.

Prosecutors are also probing allegations that the former president and his allies defrauded donors by touting false claims of election fraud. Smith issued dozens of wide ranging subpoenas for records of fundraising emails — including drafts, and suggested edits from campaign staff — as well as records of any discussions about fundraising communications and campaign messaging strategy. The investigation has also dug into Trump’s efforts to meddle with election results in individual states, including Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.

It’s as yet unclear on what aspects of the effort to overturn the election potential charges against the former president would center.

Classified Documents at Mar-a-Lago 

In August, FBI agents executed a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida. Authorities seized hundreds of classified documents retained by the former president following his departure from the White House. The raid was the culmination of a months-long effort by the National Archives and federal authorities to recover the missing materials. The effort included a subpoena and the DOJ visiting Mar-a-Lago to recover the documents — to no avail, precipitating the raid.

Trump and his legal team went to great pains — even petitioning, unsuccessfully, to the Supreme Court — to prevent investigators from actually seeing what was in the documents he was hoarding in his home. Special Counsel Jack Smith, whom Attorney General Merrick Garland tapped to oversee the case, has been gathering testimony ever since, and in the spring of this year reports on his progress made it clear that an indictment was likely.

On June 8, days after a last-ditch meeting with Special Counsel Jack Smith and members of his team to attempt to strike a last deal with prosecutors to avoid an indictment. Smith originally brought 37 charges against the former president. His longtime aide Walt Nauta was charged alongside him on six criminal counts. Authorities alleged that Trump had not only unlawfully retained highly classified documents after leaving office, but also showed some of these documents to individuals who lacked the security clearance to view them. Furthermore, Trump is accused of having conspired to hide or destroy the documents to avoid handing them over to federal authorities. Trump pleaded not guilty on all counts a Miami federal courthouse the following week.

From that point on, it seemed as though the Mar-a-Lago case would be shifting into trial preparation mode — or so everyone thought. 

In the last days of July, Smith threw a curveball, issuing a superseding indictment that leveled additional charges against Trump and Nauta, as well as charging a second Mar-a-lago employee, Carlos de Oliveira. The DOJ alleges that the three men conspired to destroy Mar-a-Lago security footage that had been subpoenaed by investigators. 

The former president responded to the charges by calling for the arrest of Special Counsel Smith. “They ought to throw Deranged Jack Smith and his Thug Prosecutors in jail, with Meritless Garland and Trump Hating Lisa Monaco. They have totally Weaponized the Department of Injustice,” he wrote.

The case is expected to go to trial in May of 2024, months before the election. 

Paying Off a Porn Star 

Trump made history in April by becoming the first president to be arrested and charged in a criminal case. The former president pleaded not guilty to 34 separate felony counts of falsifying business records brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. 

The charges relate to a 2016 hush money payment made at Trump’s direction to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Two weeks before the election, Trump allegedly instructed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to provide Daniels with $130,000 in order to buy her silence regarding an alleged affair and stave off a scandal in the final days of his campaign. Prosecutors allege the payment — which was made through a personal loan taken out by Cohen and routed through a shell corporation with a promise from the Trump Organization that the funds would be reimbursed — constitutes an unreported campaign expense. 

The former president took steps to ensure that his self-surrender in Manhattan could be exploited as a self-serving public spectacle. As previously reported by Rolling Stone, Trump insisted on a high-profile arrest in order to create, as one source put it, his own “Jesus Christ” moment and galvanize his supporters into viewing him as a martyr for their cause. In the days after his booking, Trump raised more than $7 million in a campaign cash grab.

Trump reacted to the charges with characteristic ire. The former president’s public attacks against prosecutors and the case itself have led Judge Juan Manuel Merchan to issue a not-a-gag-order against Trump that, while allowing him to publicly discuss the case, restricts his access to evidence and prevents him from publicly sharing materials disclosed to him or his legal team during the course of the trial. 

On July 15, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein slapped down a bid by the former president to have the trial moved from state to federal court. Hellerstein wrote that “Trump has failed to show that the conduct charged by the Indictment is for or relating to any act performed by or for the President under color of the official acts of a President. Trump also has failed to show that he has a colorable federal defense to the Indictment.”

Trump’s trial is scheduled to begin in New York on March 25, 2024.

Assaulting and Defaming E. Jean Carroll 

Trump made history in May when he became the first president to be found liable for sexual battery in a civil court case brought by author E. Jean Carroll, who alleged that the former president had raped her in the ‘90s. 

While Trump will not serve any jail time in this case, a Manhattan jury ruled that Trump was liable for sexual battery and defamation against Carroll, ordering him to pay $5 million in damages. Case closed … or so we thought.

The day after the ruling, Trump appeared on CNN for a town hall event, during which he repeated many of the attacks against Carroll that had originally motivated her to sue him for defamation. The former president mocked Carroll and bragged that he was too famous to have been publicly shopping at the department store where the alleged assault took place. 

In response, Carroll filed for additional damages from Trump, expanding the scope of a separate 2019 lawsuit against him. “It makes a mockery of the jury verdict and our justice system if he can just keep on repeating the same defamatory statements over and over again,” Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s attorney, said of Trump’s comments. A judge granted her request in June, and the jury in her pending defamation suit will be allowed to consider the additional penalties. 

In June, Trump’s attorney’s requested a retrial for the former president, arguing that the damages granted to Carroll were “grossly excessive under applicable case law.” Carroll’s attorneys roasted the former president in their response to the filing, likening Trump’s rationale to an article from The Onion. 

His request for a retrial was denied In July. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan torched the former president’s arguments that the financial penalties were too high because the jury determined that he had assaulted, but not legally raped, Carroll. 

“The definition of rape in the New York Penal Law is far narrower than the meaning of ‘rape’ in common modern parlance,” Kaplan wrote in his decision. “The finding that Ms. Carroll failed to prove that she was ‘raped’ within the meaning of the New York Penal Law does not mean that she failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape.’ Indeed, as the evidence at trial recounted below makes clear, the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact did exactly that.”

“I have considered Mr. Trump’s other arguments and found them all unpersuasive,” Kaplan added.

A trial date for Carroll’s remaining defamation suit has not been set. 

Election Meddling in Georgia

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Trump attempted to undermine the results of various key swing states in order to undermine the election. Georgia was one such state. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis empaneled a grand jury in May 2022 to investigate Trump and his allies’ efforts to interfere with the state’s outcome, including efforts to pressure Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to rig the election in his favor.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated,” Trump told Raffensperger during a January 2021 phone call, “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

An indictment, which could include charges against Trump, could come as soon as August. Sources told The Washington Post in June that Willis has expanded the probe into some of Trump and his allies’ activities in other states, and is considering invoking Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) laws to level racketeering charges against those involved. 

In late July, The Guardian reported that Willis was still working on building out RICO charges, and weighing potential charges of solicitation to commit election fraud and conspiracy to commit election fraud.

Corporate Fraud in New York

New York Attorney General Letitia James has brought a massive $250 million civil fraud case against the former president, his children, and members of the Trump Organization. In September, James alleged that the Trump Organization made “over 200” false valuations of assets over the last decade. She also said she planned to make referrals to the IRS criminal division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for possible federal crimes.

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Trump has twice given testimony to prosecutors in the case. Once in August, where he invoked the 5th Amendment hundreds of times, and a second time in April.

James has already secured a conviction against a member of the former president’s inner circle. The attorney general brought a separate criminal, tax fraud case against former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg in May 2021. Weisselberg was ultimately sentenced to five months in prison after pleading guilty to failing to declare and pay taxes on more than $1.7 million in company benefits provided by the Trump Organization. Weisselberg is named as a co-defendant in the civil case against Trump, the trial for which is slated to begin on Oct. 2, 2023.



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