Donald Trump cried foul on Monday after FBI agents searched his residence at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, while his fellow Republicans have rushed to defend him as a victim of judicial persecution.
The execution of a search warrant at the former president’s home has highlighted the extent of the legal troubles that have engulfed Trump since he left office in January 2021, casting a cloud over his ambitions to run again for the White House in 2024.
The raid on Trump’s residence was particularly significant because it signalled that federal prosecutors and the US Department of Justice, led by attorney-general Merrick Garland, and the FBI, led by Trump appointee Christopher Wray, have the former president squarely in their sights despite the controversy it has created.
“I think the fact that they did go to the trouble of doing this at all, knowing there’d be a Trumpian response, indicates that whatever they’re looking for, probably is relatively important,” said Michael Gerhardt, a professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It strikes me as rather inevitable that this was going to happen sooner or later.”
It is still unclear whether the DoJ has the intent or political will to go a step further and charge Trump with illegal conduct. Meanwhile, prosecutors at the local level in Georgia and New York have also been ploughing ahead with investigations of the former president.
Here are some of Trump’s biggest legal risks.
According to the FBI warrant unsealed on Friday, the search of Mar-a-Lago was part of a probe into possible violations of the Espionage Act relating to Trump’s handling of classified information from his days in the White House.
Items listed as having been removed from the Florida estate included top secret documents, the “executive grant for clemency” for Trump’s former adviser Roger Stone, and information relating to the president of France.
If Trump is found to have tampered with, destroyed, concealed or obstructed access to such presidential records, he could face charges.
“If a president or a former official has documents that are really not theirs, I don’t think we should be too surprised by a government inquiry,” Gerhardt said.
“The critical thing to understand is that those documents are not the property of the person who has them. They’re the property of the US government,” he added.
January 6 investigation
Trump was already impeached by the House of Representatives for his actions in connection with the January 6 assault on the US Capitol, as he fomented the mob trying to overturn the 2020 election result. But he was not convicted by the Senate, which could have prevented him from running for office again.
Trump appeared for some time to have avoided any legal consequences from the insurrection. But when a bipartisan congressional panel dug deeper this year into the former president’s conduct in the days leading up to and during the riot itself, including public testimony pointing to his intention to join the mob storming the Capitol, it put him in jeopardy once more.
Liz Cheney, the Republican vice-chair of the January 6 committee, has suggested there is enough evidence for Trump to be prosecuted. The panel may refer its findings in the case to prosecutors at the justice department.
Georgia’s 2020 election results certification
Fani Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County in Georgia, has been investigating the actions of Trump and his allies in the aftermath of the 2020 elections. The former president put pressure on senior Georgia election officials, including secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, which handed him the state’s 15 electoral college votes. Trump famously badgered Raffensperger during a phone call in early January 2021 to “find” the more than 10,000 votes that separated him from Biden in the election.
A grand jury has been convened to weigh the case and whether there is enough evidence to bring charges. Willis has sought to interview a number of high-profile witnesses and Trump allies, including Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump lawyer, and Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina.
New York property
The most serious of the legal woes facing Trump for many months appeared to be coming from prosecutors in New York, where former district attorney Cyrus Vance secured the indictment of the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg on tax fraud charges.
Though the new district attorney Alvin Bragg has said the investigation is continuing, the case faced a huge setback after two prominent prosecutors, Carey Dunne and Mark Pomerantz, suddenly resigned this year.
Letitia James, New York state attorney-general, is separately moving ahead with a civil case alleging that Trump inflated the value of his real estate assets. Trump has confirmed that he will be questioned by James’s office on Wednesday in connection with the probe.
“In New York City tonight. Seeing racist N.Y.S. Attorney General tomorrow, for a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history,” he wrote on his Truth Social platform, referring to James, who is black. “My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides. Banana Republic!”
As he faces questions about alleged financial improprieties, Trump suffered a separate setback on Tuesday when a federal appeals court ruled that his tax returns, which he has long tried to shield from public scrutiny, could be turned over to Congress.