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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber after the Senate voted not guilty in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber after the Senate voted not guilty in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber after the Senate voted not guilty in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 13, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • Trump’s call to Georgia’s secretary of state raised questions of illegal election interference.

  • Multiple New York investigations are looking into the tax and financial filings by Trump and the Trump organization, with the potential for charges of tax and banking fraud.

By a vote of 57 to 43, the Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cautioned that Trump might still face charges or lawsuits for his role in the attack on the Capitol.

"We have a criminal justice system in this country," McConnell said after voting for Trump’s acquittal. "We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one."

But Trump’s legal risks are not limited to the events of Jan. 6.

His Jan. 2 call to Georgia’s secretary of state spurred an investigation by the Fulton County district attorney in Georgia.

In New York, the Manhattan district attorney and the state attorney general have open inquiries.

It’s anyone’s guess whether prosecutors will actually file charges. The New York investigations were slowed thanks to legal protections Trump enjoyed while he was president. The most serious issues center on potential charges of tax and bank fraud. But investigators have yet to see the tax returns for Trump and the Trump Organization.

A key U.S.Supreme Court ruling on those tax returns is pending.

Here are some of the leading matters prosecutors are digging into.

Interfering in Georgia’s election count

In a Feb. 10 letter to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and other top state officials, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said her office had opened an investigation into "attempts to influence the actions of persons who were administering" the 2020 election. While Trump is not named, only Trump and his representatives alleged election fraud, and Willis’ description would cover Trump’s Jan. 2 call to Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. 

On that call, Trump urged Raffensperger to revisit the vote tally. He cited unsubstantiated accounts of manipulated vote tallies, shredded ballots, and illegal voting.

"I just want to find 11,780 votes," Trump told Raffensperger — one more than his losing margin. 

At one point Trump said, "There’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated."

A big hurdle in proving criminal interference is proving Trump’s state of mind. If he believed there was actual fraud, Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis told us, then there’s nothing wrong with him pressing a state official to uncover it.

"If charged, Trump's attorneys could argue that he was not advocating for fraud but asking for a good faith search for truth," Kreis said.

On the other hand, the president of the United States wields much more power than a secretary of state. For Trump to spend an hour with Raffensperger could give a prosecutor a strong argument that "Trump was leveraging that inequity to induce Secretary Raffensperger to act unlawfully," Kreis said.

The Fulton County grand jury meets in March to consider the need for more information and possible charges.

An array of financial investigations

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. first began looking at Trump for paying $280,000 to two women — a former Playboy model and a director and star in porn films — who said they had intimate relations with Trump. Trump’s payments to bury their stories during the 2016 election led to the conviction of his personal lawyer. 

Now, Vance’s focus has expanded.

In an August 2020 court filing, Vance said his office’s subpoena of tax and financial records had to do with "alleged insurance and bank fraud by the Trump Organization and its officers." The filing referred to public reporting of fraud.

In 2019, following congressional testimony by Trump’s convicted former lawyer Michael Cohen, New York Attorney General Letitia James opened an investigation to explore whether "Trump’s annual financial statements inflated the values of Trump’s assets to obtain favorable terms for loans and insurance coverage, while also deflating the value of other assets to reduce real estate taxes."

James’ office said its inquiry focused on several properties.

A mansion on 212 acres in Westchester County, N.Y., was originally slated to be turned into a golf course. When local opposition scuttled those plans, Trump ultimately put a large chunk of the acreage into conservation. The higher the value of the property, the more it was worth as a tax write-off, and the issue would be if the property assessment was reasonable. Similar questions swirl around a Los Angeles golf course that the Trump Organization also partially put into conservation.

The Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago ran short on money, and in a financial restructuring, lenders forgave part of the outstanding debt. The issue is whether the Trump Organization reported the forgiven debt as income, as the law typically requires.

The state attorney general is also looking at Trump’s efforts to win financing from Deutsche Bank when he tried to buy the Buffalo Bills football team in 2014.

While a calculated effort to deceive lenders, investors and insurance companies could put Trump at legal risk, it is unclear if any paperwork filed by Trump or the Trump Organization broke any law. Declarations of value come with warnings that put the onus on the other party to verify the numbers for themselves.

A new area of inquiry may have opened up after the 2020 election. The New York Times acquired copies of many years of Trump tax records and reported that Trump might have paid consulting fees to his daughter Ivanka Trump while she was an officer of the company. That potentially could run afoul of tax laws.

The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance is also looking into many of the same matters.

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Our Sources

Office of Fulton County District Attorney, Investigation letter, Feb. 10, 2021

U.S. District Court - Southern District of New York, United States of America v. Michael Cohen, Dec. 7, 2018

U.S. District Court - Southern District of New York, Donald J. Trump v. Cyrus R. Vance, Jr and Mazars USA, Aug. 3, 2020

New York State Office of the Attorney General, Attorney General James Takes Action to Force Trump Organization to Comply with Ongoing Investigation Into Financial Dealings, Aug. 24, 2020

New York State Office of the Attorney General, Court Orders Additional Documents to Be Handed Over to Attorney General James in Ongoing Trump Organization Investigation, Dec. 15, 2020

Washington Post, Here’s the full transcript and audio of the call between Trump and Raffensperger, Jan. 5, 2021

PolitiFact, What Michael Cohen's guilty plea means for Donald Trump, Aug. 22, 2018

Washington Post, How Donald Trump inflated his net worth to lenders and investors, March 28, 2019

New York Times, Manhattan D.A. Intensifies Investigation of Trump, Dec. 11, 2020

City and State New York, Trump’s potential New York legal woes, Dec. 3, 2020

Reuters, As impeachment begins, New York accelerates probes of Trump's property dealings, Feb. 9, 2021

ProPublica, Prosecutors Investigating the Trump Organization Zero In on Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg, Nov. 21, 2019

PolitiFact, Experts say Trump tax report shows aggressive tax avoidance, unusually persistent losses, Sept. 30, 2020

New York Times, Trump Tax Write-Offs Are Ensnared in 2 New York Fraud Investigations, Dec. 3, 2020

Wall Street Journal, Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation by Federal Prosecutors, Dec. 13, 2018

CNN, Key steps in Trump Organization criminal probe stall as investigators await Supreme Court decision, Jan. 12, 2021

Slate, It Sure Looks Like Trump Will Face Criminal Charges for Election Fraud, Feb. 11, 2021

Email exchange, Anthony Michael Kreis, professor of law, Georgia State University, Feb. 12, 2020


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