By The Washington Post · Shayna Jacobs · NATIONAL, COURTSLAW
Among Democrats, there is a palpable desire to pursue the harsh accountability for Trump that many feel he has avoided by virtue of his office. But his successor, President-elect Joe Biden, reportedly has little appetite for doing so, having signaled to advisers that unleashing the federal government to settle scores would undermine his goal of unifying the country.
A spokesman for Biden's transition team declined to comment but pointed to statements Biden made previously affirming that he would not interfere with a Justice Department investigation into Trump nor pardon his predecessor. "It is not something the president is entitled to do, to direct a prosecution or decide to drop a case," Biden told MSNBC in an interview in May. "It's a dereliction of duty."
Lawyers for Trump did not respond to requests for comment. Across the breadth of cases in which he's been forced to defend himself or protect his interests, though, they have vigorously disputed allegations of wrongdoing while upending the proceedings by seeking delays and making other time-consuming requests.
As it stands, Trump faces several lawsuits and at least two active investigations by state or local authorities in New York alone. The city was the president's longtime home before he redesignated Florida as his permanent residence, and it remains the Trump Organization's base of operations.
Trump's lawyers are likely to be most focused on minimizing the risk of criminal prosecution, which he could attempt to achieve on his own at the federal level by pre-emptively pardoning himself, as he has mused in the past, and members of his inner circle. There is no consensus among constitutional law experts on whether a president can pardon himself - and importantly, any pardons would not be binding on state and local authorities, whom experts view as his biggest threat.
The Manhattan district attorney's ongoing investigation into Trump and his family-run business appears to be the most significant problem he faces; were Trump to be charged and convicted, he could face the prospect of incarceration.
That case is examining whether fraud was committed when alleged hush-money payments were made ahead of the 2016 election to two women who said they had affairs with Trump years before he became president - claims he denies. Prosecutors also are said to be looking at the possibility that false information was submitted on loan applications to obtain favorable rates and whether any information was manipulated in the pursuit of tax benefits.
The president's lawyers have dismissed the district attorney's effort as a politically driven fishing expedition.
To be sure, it remains to be seen whether this investigation will result in any charges, as prosecutors have yet to obtain Trump's tax records and related documents deemed crucial to their case. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., a Democrat, is in litigation to obtain that material, having won a series of victories in lower courts but now awaiting a final say from the U.S. Supreme Court - which has been silent on the matter for several weeks after Trump asked that it get involved.
A spokesman for Vance declined to comment on the status of the case.
Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor involved in Robert Mueller III's special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, said Vance's team appears to be doing a "classic following-the-money case." He likened it to the bank-fraud case Mueller's team brought against Trump's former 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
"Accounting records are critical to that," Weissmann said.
Separately, the New York State Attorney General's Office is conducting a wide-reaching civil fraud investigation, including into whether Trump and the Trump Organization sought to minimize tax liability by misrepresenting to lenders the value of certain assets.
The New York Times, which ahead of this month's election published an expansive investigative series based on several years of Trump's tax records that the newspaper obtained, reported Thursday that Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James also are looking at Trump's use of consulting fees, some of which may have been directed to his daughter Ivanka, as a means to lower his taxable income between 2010 and 2018.
An attorney for the Trump Organization has said that the company followed the law and guidance of tax experts and that all applicable taxes were paid. Ivanka Trump has called the inquiries "harassment pure and simple" and "part of a continued political vendetta."
The state attorney general's probe amounts to a thorough auditing of the president and the Trump Organization, including whether either "improperly inflated the value of Mr. Trump's assets on annual financial statements in order to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits," according to a recent court filing. If substantiated, such charges could result in financial penalties or potential restrictions on Trump's business operations.
Then there's the Internal Revenue Service. As the Times also has reported, Trump could owe the government as much as $100 million.
"His dispute with the IRS, if it's not resolved before he leaves office, is the same kind of huge potential exposure anyone would have in that kind of dispute with the IRS," said Stephen Saltzburg, a former Justice Department official and director of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution program at George Washington University Law School.
Trump also will have to face a pair of high-profile defamation lawsuits in New York, stemming from accusations of personal misconduct. In federal court in Manhattan, advice columnist and author E. Jean Carroll awaits the advancement of her case after a judge ruled that the Justice Department could not intervene on Trump's behalf, as it had attempted to do.
In her memoir, Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s - which Trump has adamantly denied, calling her a liar and suggesting he was not attracted to her. Carroll's lawyers have proposed that Trump be deposed and provide a DNA sample in the coming months. His DNA is required for comparison to a stain that was on the dress Carroll said she wore the day of the encounter.
Roberta Kaplan, who represents Carroll, said she has sent Trump's legal team a proposed schedule to proceed. His attorney in the case, Marc Kasowitz, had not responded as of Friday, Kaplan said. If a schedule isn't agreed upon by the parties, they are set to meet in court Dec. 11. Kaplan said she anticipates that Trump will try to delay further.
"We haven't heard back, but we assume Trump will take the position there should be no discovery pending appeal," Kaplan said.
A similar lawsuit brought by former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos is pending in front of New York state's highest court. A date for a hearing has not yet been scheduled.
More recently, the president's niece, Mary L. Trump, has sued him, his sister Maryanne Trump Barry and the estate of his late brother Robert Trump, claiming they defrauded her of tens of millions of dollars when family patriarch Fred Trump's estate was settled after his death in 1999.
Mary Trump recently published an explosive book about the Trump family and her uncle's rise to the presidency, and she was a vocal critic of him ahead of the election. Lawyers for the president have not formally responded to the lawsuit. When it was filed, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that it was Mary Trump who committed fraud by surreptitiously recording her aunt disparaging the president. McEnany said that Mary Trump had "really discredited herself."
Former federal prosecutor Jessica Roth, who teaches at Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan, said this jumble of personal and business-related cases may amount to years-long legal dramas for Trump. "The sheer number of them makes the task of dealing with them really daunting," Roth said. "And none of those actors are bound by the decisions made by the other one."