By Luc Cohen and Jacqueline Thomsen
(Reuters) – Donald Trump’s legal and political woes deepened this week when his real estate company was found guilty of tax fraud and a U.S. Senate candidate he backed lost a runoff election, further coloring the former U.S. president’s 2024 re-election campaign.
On Nov. 15 Trump launched his campaign for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic President Joe Biden. Multiple Trump-backed candidates lost in midterm elections, including Herschel Walker in a Georgia runoff on Tuesday.
During his 2016 campaign and through his subsequent four years in office, Trump repeatedly shook off scandals and legal challenges, surviving two impeachment trials in Congress. He has characterized legal probes as politically motivated “witch hunts” and regularly uses news of investigations to raise money from his core supporters.
None of the investigations would prevent Trump from campaigning, though some recent public opinion polls have shown Republican voters switching their support to other potential White House candidates, notably Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
After Tuesday’s verdict in the tax fraud case, the New York state judge set sentencing for Jan. 13. The Trump Organization – which operates hotels, golf courses and other global real estate – faces up to $1.6 million in fines.
The company had pleaded not guilty. Trump was not charged.
While the fine is not expected to be material for a company of the Trump Organization’s size, the conviction by a jury could complicate its ability to do business by spooking lenders and partners.
Allen Weisselberg, the company’s former chief financial officer, had pleaded guilty and was required to testify against the Trump Organization as part of a plea agreement. A Trump Organization lawyer, Alan Futerfas, vowed to appeal the verdict.
PROBE OF TRUMP BID TO OVERTURN 2020 ELECTION
The special counsel overseeing two federal investigations has issued grand jury subpoenas to local election officials in Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin as part of an inquiry into efforts to overturn Trump’s loss in the 2020 U.S. election.
The subpoenas, made public on Tuesday, also seek communications involving a list of Trump’s attorneys during the 2020 campaign including Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, Justin Clark, Jenna Ellis and Cleta Mitchell.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Nov. 18 appointed Jack Smith special counsel for two Justice Department probes. The second investigation focuses on Trump’s handling of classified government documents after leaving office.
The investigation into a failed attempt by Trump allies to overturn the 2020 results focuses on batches of phony slates of electors submitted to the U.S. National Archives for the state-by-state system that determines presidential election winners and on an effort to block Congress from certifying Biden’s win.
MISSING GOVERNMENT RECORDS
The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of Trump for retaining government records, including some marked as classified, after leaving office in January 2021.
FBI agents carried out a court-approved Aug. 8 search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. About 100 documents marked as classified were among thousands of records seized. Investigators also are investigating possible obstruction of the probe.
A U.S. appeals court on Dec. 1 dealt a blow to Trump, reversing a judge’s appointment of an independent arbiter to vet documents seized by the FBI from his Florida home and allowing all of the records to be used in a criminal investigation of the former president.
NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL CIVIL LAWSUIT
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a civil lawsuit filed in September that her office uncovered more than 200 examples of misleading asset valuations by Trump and the Trump Organization between 2011 and 2021.
James, a Democrat, accused Trump of inflating his net worth by billions of dollars to obtain lower interest rates on loans and get better insurance coverage.
James is seeking to permanently bar Trump and his children Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump from running companies in New York state, and to prevent them and his company from buying new properties and taking out new loans in the state for five years.
James also wants the defendants to hand over about $250 million that she says was obtained through fraud.
Trump has called the attorney general’s lawsuit a witch hunt. A lawyer for Trump has called James’ claims meritless.
In a Manhattan federal court complaint, the former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll accuses Trump of battery at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan 27 years ago and of lying by denying that he raped her.
Carroll, 78, brought the battery claim on Nov. 24 under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, a new law giving sexual assault victims a one-year window to sue alleged abusers, even if the statute of limitations has expired.
Trump, 76, has denied raping Carroll or knowing her at the time, and said she was “not my type.” His first denial in June 2019 prompted her to sue for defamation five months later.
Both sides are awaiting appeals court decisions addressing Trump’s argument that he was legally immune from Carroll’s first lawsuit because he had spoken in his capacity as president.
Carroll is seeking unspecified damages. To support her battery claim, she said Trump caused her lasting psychological harm, and left her unable to sustain a romantic relationship.
The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters said on Tuesday that the panel had decided to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department.
A referral does not necessarily mean that the Justice Department, which is conducting its own investigation of the riot, will decide to file charges.
The Democratic-led House Select Committee has spent more than a year investigating the attack on the Capitol after the then-Republican president gave a fiery speech falsely claiming that his defeat by Biden was the result of fraud.
Five people including a police officer died during or shortly after the riot and more than 140 police officers were injured. The Capitol suffered millions of dollars in damage and then-Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and staff ran for their lives amid the chaos.
GEORGIA ELECTION TAMPERING PROBE
A special grand jury was empanelled in May for a Georgia prosecutor’s inquiry into Trump’s alleged efforts to influence that state’s 2020 election results.
The investigation focuses in part on a phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, on Jan. 2, 2021. Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” enough votes needed to overturn Trump’s election loss in Georgia.
Legal experts said Trump may have violated at least three Georgia criminal election laws: conspiracy to commit election fraud, criminal solicitation to commit election fraud and intentional interference with performance of election duties.
Trump could argue that his discussions were constitutionally protected free speech.
In a separate lawsuit, a California federal judge said on Oct. 19 that Trump knowingly made false voter fraud claims in a Georgia election lawsuit, citing emails the judge reviewed.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York and Jacqueline Thomsen in Washington; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)
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