Explainer: Why Trump's legal woes go
beyond the Mueller report
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[March 23, 2019]
By Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The closure of
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's role in the
2016 U.S. election does not mark the end of legal worries for President
Donald Trump and people close to him. Other ongoing investigations and
litigation are focusing on issues including his businesses and financial
dealings, personal conduct, charitable foundation and inaugural
These investigations, pursued by prosecutors at the federal and state
level, could result in charges beyond those brought in Mueller's
investigation or civil liability. The special counsel on Friday
submitted his confidential report on the investigation to U.S. Attorney
General William Barr, who must decide on how much of it to make public.
The U.S. Justice Department has a decades-old policy that a sitting
president cannot face criminal charges, so such a case against Trump
would be unlikely while he is in office even if there were evidence of
wrongdoing. Some legal experts have argued the department is wrong and
that a president is not immune from prosecution. Either way, Trump
potentially could face charges once he is out of office.
Here is an explanation of some criminal investigations and civil
lawsuits still underway.
MUELLER'S CRIMINAL CASES
Mueller charged 34 individuals and three companies. Several of those
cases resulted in guilty pleas and one case went to trial, with former
Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort convicted in August 2018 of eight
criminal counts, including bank fraud and tax fraud. Longtime Trump
adviser Roger Stone was indicted in January of this year and pleaded not
guilty, but his trial is still pending. There are other cases involving
indicted Russians that have not gone to trial. Other prosecutors within
the Justice Department will likely take over criminal cases begun by
Mueller, legal experts said.
BUSINESS PRACTICES AND FINANCIAL DEALINGS
Trump may face significant peril from federal prosecutors in Manhattan,
according to legal experts. His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen
said in Feb. 27 congressional testimony that the U.S. Attorney's Office
for the Southern District of New York is examining Trump's business
practices and financial dealings. Cohen already has implicated Trump in
campaign finance law violations to which he pleaded guilty in August
2018 as part of the Southern District investigation.
Cohen admitted he violated campaign finance laws by arranging, at
Trump's direction, "hush money" payments shortly before the 2016
presidential election to porn film actress Stormy Daniels and former
Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal to prevent damage to Trump's
candidacy. Both women said they had sexual relationships with Trump more
than a decade ago. He has denied that.
Prosecutors said the payments constituted illegal campaign contributions
intended to influence the election. Under federal election laws, such
donations cannot exceed $2,700 and need to be publicly disclosed.
Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, received $130,000.
McDougal received $150,000.
The New York investigation has involved longtime Trump ally David
Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper, who
admitted to paying McDougal for the rights to her story and then
suppressing it to influence the election, an arrangement called "catch
During his Feb. 27 congressional hearing, Cohen said he was in "constant
contact" with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and said other crimes
and wrongdoing by Trump are being investigated by them, though he did
not offer details. Cohen said he could not testify about the nature of
his last conversation with Trump in early 2018 because it was under
investigation by the federal prosecutors in New York.
NEW YORK STATE CHARGES AGAINST MANAFORT
The Manhattan district attorney's office is exploring criminal charges
against Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign
chairman, over financial crimes related to unpaid state taxes and
possibly loans. In cases bought by Mueller, Manafort in 2018 was
convicted of tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank
accounts in Virginia and pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges in
Washington. He was sentenced to a combined 7-1/2 years in prison in the
two cases. Trump has not ruled out granting Manafort a pardon. The
president would not be able to pardon Manafort if he is convicted of
charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney because they would
not be federal crimes. However, New York has broad double-jeopardy
protections that usually prevent the state from prosecuting a person for
crimes arising from the same criminal conduct the federal government has
SUMMER ZERVOS DEFAMATION LAWSUIT
A defamation lawsuit against Trump by Summer Zervos, a former contestant
on his reality television show "The Apprentice," continues in New York
state court after a judge in 2018 allowed it to proceed. Zervos sued
Trump after he called her and other women who have accused him of sexual
misconduct liars and retweeted a post labeling her claims a hoax.
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trumps, seated with acting Defense Secretary
Patrick Shanahan (C) and National Security adviser John Bolton
speaks during a meeting with the leaders of The Bahamas, the
Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia at his Mar-a-Lago
estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin
Trump has agreed to provide written answers to questions from Zervos
by Sept. 28, according to a court filing.
Zervos accused Trump of kissing her against her will at his New York
office in 2007 and later groping her at a meeting at a hotel in
California. More than a dozen women have accused Trump of making
unwanted sexual advances against them years before he entered
Marc Kasowitz, a lawyer for Trump, had argued that the lawsuit
unconstitutionally impedes the president from performing his duties.
An appeals court rejected that argument on March 14 by a 3-2 vote.
Kasowitz said he would appeal the decision to the state's highest
Separately, two lawsuits against Trump brought by porn star Stormy
Daniels were dismissed.
THE TRUMP FOUNDATION
A lawsuit filed by the New York state Attorney General's Office has
already led the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was presented as
the charitable arm of Trump's business empire, to agree in December
2018 to dissolve, and the litigation continues.
The state is seeking an order banning Trump and his three eldest
children from leadership roles in any other New York charity. Trump
has said the lawsuit was concocted by "sleazy New York Democrats."
The state's Democratic attorney general accused the foundation of
being "engaged in a "shocking pattern of illegality" and
"functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump's
business and political interests" in violation of federal law.
The attorney general's office alleged Trump and his family members
used the charity to pay off his legal debts and purchase personal
items. The foundation agreed to dissolve and give away all its
remaining assets under court supervision.
Trump is accused in a lawsuit filed by the Democratic attorneys
general of Maryland and the District of Columbia of violating
anti-corruption provisions of the U.S. Constitution through his
businesses' dealings with foreign governments.
The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard
oral arguments on March 19 in the Trump administration's appeal of
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte's 2018 rulings allowing the case
The Constitution's "emoluments clause" bars U.S. officials from
accepting payments from foreign governments and the governments of
U.S. states without congressional approval. The lawsuit stated that
because Trump did not divest himself of his business empire,
spending by foreign governments at the Trump International Hotel in
Washington amounts to unconstitutional gifts, or "emoluments," to
The three appeals court judges, all appointed by Republican
presidents, expressed approval toward Trump's arguments in the case
and signaled they might dismiss it, but did not issue a ruling.
Some experts have said the case will eventually be heard by the U.S.
TRUMP INAUGURAL COMMITTEE
Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating whether the
committee that organized Trump's inauguration in January 2017
accepted illegal donations from foreigners, misused funds or
brokered special access to the administration for donors.
Federal election law prohibits foreigners from donating to U.S.
political campaigns or inaugural committees, and corruption laws ban
donors from making contributions in exchange for political favors.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in December 2018 that the president
was not involved in his inaugural committee. The $107 million raised
by the committee, which was chaired by real estate developer and
investor Thomas Barrack, was the largest in history, according to
Federal Election Commission filings.
Under the Constitution, the president, vice president and "all civil
officers of the United States" can be removed from office by
Congress through the impeachment process for "treason, bribery, or
other high crimes and misdemeanors." The House of Representatives
acts as the accuser - voting on whether to bring specific charges
such as obstruction of justice - and the Senate then conducts a
trial with House members acting as prosecutors and the individual
senators serving as jurors. A simple majority vote is needed in the
House to impeach. A two-thirds majority is required in the Senate to
convict and remove.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Bill Trott and Jonathan Oatis)
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