There has been much speculation that even if he concedes he lost last week’s election, U.S. President Donald Trump is interested in remaining a force in Republican politics by acquiring a stake in a media company or running as a candidate again.
But Trump’s time outside of office could be consumed by meetings with lawyers and possibly depositions under oath or testimony at trial. Come late January, he loses protections the U.S. legal system affords to a sitting president, former prosecutors say.
Trump, 74, has been no stranger to lawsuits in a career as a real estate builder, professional football team owner and casino magnate. He has often worked to settle matters quietly, admitting no wrongdoing. However, his profile as an ex-president could make that challenging.
Here are some of the legal challenges Trump faces:
New York probe of Trump Organization
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who enforces New York state laws, has been conducting a criminal investigation into Trump and the Trump Organization for more than two years.
The probe originally focused on hush-money payments that Trump’s former lawyer and self-described fixer Michael Cohen paid before the 2016 election to two women who said they had sexual encounters with Trump, which the president has denied.
Vance has suggested in recent court filings that his probe is now broader and could focus on bank, tax and insurance fraud, as well as falsification of business records.
In July, the U.S. Supreme Court — denying Trump’s bid to keep the returns under wraps — said the president was not immune from state criminal probes while in office, but could raise other defences to Vance’s subpoena.
Vance will likely ultimately prevail in obtaining Trump’s financial records, legal experts said.
Some people believe Vance has been reluctant to charge Trump because of uncertainty over whether the case against a sitting president is constitutional, said Harry Sandick, a former prosecutor in New York.
“Those concerns will disappear when Trump leaves office,” Sandick said.
The investigation poses a threat to Trump, said Corey Brettschneider, a political science professor at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
“The fact that they have issued the subpoenas and have litigated all the way to the Supreme Court suggests that this is a very serious criminal investigation of the president,” Brettschneider said.
Cohen said the campaign arranged with David Pecker, the head of the National Enquirer’s publishing company, to publish damaging stories about Trump’s rivals and to not publish damaging information about Trump. Pecker has spoken with New York investigators, according to a 2019 CNN report.
Tax probe a big question
Trump could conceivably face a criminal prosecution brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, led by a new U.S. attorney general.
Some legal experts have said Trump could face federal income tax evasion charges, pointing to a New York Times report that Trump paid $750 US in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017.
“You’ve got the stuff that has come out of the New York Times that has all kind of indicia of tax fraud,” Nick Akerman, a lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney and a former federal prosecutor.
WATCH l Trump used tax credits to advantage:
Akerman cautioned that it is not possible to know for certain until seeing all of the evidence.
Trump has rejected findings from the Times report, tweeting that he had paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled to depreciation and tax credits.
Trump bucked post-Watergate tradition among presidential candidates by not releasing his taxes since launching his campaign in 2015. He has justified the stance by claiming he is under audit, but the Internal Revenue Service said in February 2016 that “nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.”
Such a prosecution would be deeply controversial, and the Justice Department could decide charging Trump is not in the public interest even if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden told National Public Radio in August that pursuing criminal charges against his predecessor would be “a very, very unusual thing and probably not very — how can I say it? — good for democracy.”
Even without a tax probe, multiple reports in the U.S. indicate that Trump will soon have a series of loan payments to make. Those could prove a challenge in a pandemic for a business empire that depends in no small part on tourism and unfettered travel.
Civil fraud investigation
New York’s Attorney General, Letitia James has an active tax fraud investigation concerning the Trump Organization.
The inquiry began after Trump’s former lawyer Cohen told Congress the president inflated asset values to save money on loans and insurance and deflated them to reduce real estate taxes.
Trump himself said as much in a 2007 deposition in an unrelated case.
“My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and feelings, even my own feelings,” he said under oath.
This New York inquiry is a civil investigation, meaning it could result in financial penalties but not jail time.
Trump’s son, Eric Trump, an executive for the firm, was deposed in October after first refusing to sit for an interview during the election campaign. The attorney general has said Eric Trump had close involvement in one or more transactions being reviewed.
James previously oversaw the dissolution of Trump Foundation, a charitable organization that the candidate used to further his business interests and 2016 presidential run. Trump paid a penalty of $2 million.
E. Jean Carroll
E. Jean Carroll, a former Elle magazine writer, sued Trump for defamation in 2019 after the president denied Carroll’s allegation that he raped her in the 1990s in a New York department store and accused her of lying to drum up sales for a book.
In August, a state judge allowed the case to go forward, meaning Carroll’s lawyers could seek a DNA sample from Trump to match against a dress she said she wore at the store.
A federal judge in Manhattan rejected a bid by the U.S. Justice Department to substitute the federal government for Trump as defendant in the case. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan said that Trump did not make his statements about Carroll in the scope of his employment as president.
Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan, said she expected Biden’s Justice Department to abandon the effort to shield Trump from the case.
“It would seem unlikely for DOJ to continue to pursue what I see as a frivolous argument in a new administration,” said McQuade, a former federal prosecutor.
Trump also faces a lawsuit by Summer Zervos, a 2005 contestant on Trump’s reality television show The Apprentice, who says Trump kissed her against her will at a 2007 meeting and later groped her at a hotel.
After Trump called Zervos a liar, she sued him for defamation.
The case has been on hold while a New York state appeals court reviewed a March 2019 decision that Trump had to face the case while he is in office. Trump’s immunity argument would no longer apply once he is out of office.
Multi-level marketing suit
Trump and his adult children are defendants in a class action suit, accused of misleading the plaintiffs into becoming salespeople for American Communications Network (ACN). According to the plaintiffs, the Trumps conned them into thinking Donald Trump believed their investments would pay off.
Trump was reportedly paid $8.8 million US over several years for his ACN-related activities, which included speeches and personal appearances. He even promoted ACN in some episodes of The Apprentice.
Despite that, Trump told the Wall Street Journal in 2015: “I know nothing about the company other than the people who run the company.”