As Donald Trump’s legal woes get more, uh, woeful, they are also getting more complicated.
As of mid-August, the former president is facing multiple criminal indictments as well as several ongoing and potential civil suits. The civil cases are wide-ranging, encompassing New York Attorney General Letitia James’ ongoing lawsuit over the Trump Organization’s finances, as well as writer E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against Trump personally. But those cases shouldn’t come as any surprise to a man who, even before he got involved in politics, had spent previous decades accumulating several thousand lawsuits.
No, where things get interesting are the criminal cases.
In March 2023, Trump became the first former president to be criminally indicted, when he was charged with falsifying business records in New York. Since then, he has earned the dubious honor several times over, with two federal indictments and a state-level indictment.
The investigations have some significant overlap: Two of them are based on Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, though they are being brought by different prosecutors in different jurisdictions. Meanwhile, two separate indictments on different subjects are being brought by the Justice Department’s special counsel, Jack Smith, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee the DOJ’s investigations into Trump. It gets a little confusing.
Adding to the complexity is the likelihood Trump will attempt to pardon himself of any convictions should he win the presidency in 2024. It’s not ultimately clear if he can, but even then he wouldn’t necessarily be off the hook, as a president can only pardon federal — not state — crimes.
Here’s your quick and dirty guide to Trump’s various criminal indictments, in chronological order.
Stormy Daniels Case: New York
Trump was charged on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records over his role in hush money payments, including a high-profile one to porn actor Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.
- Federal or state? State
- Possible prison time? Each of the charges carries a potential prison sentence of up to four years.
- Indictment date? March 30, 2023
- Trial date? March 2024
What To Know:
On March 30, Trump became the first-ever former president to be indicted on criminal charges. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged him on 34 counts of falsifying business records related to his role in several hush money payments, including one of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. The porn actor, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, claimed ahead of the 2016 presidential election that she had an affair with Trump some 11 years before. Trump has denied the affair, but admitted to reimbursing his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, for the payment, which he also denied was related to his campaign.
While a hush money payment isn’t illegal in and of itself, the charges stem from what prosecutors allege was Trump’s effort to illegally cover it up in an effort to protect his campaign for president. They accuse Trump of false statements to tax authorities, campaign contributions beyond what is allowed by law, and trying to hide violations of New York state election law. The charges include allegations of 11 falsified invoices, 12 general ledger entries and 11 checks — one charge for each document. Each charge carries a maximum of four years in prison. Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the payments.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in late March 2024, just as the presidential election cycle will be kicking off in earnest.
Mar-A-Lago Documents Case: Federal
Trump was charged with 40 felony counts related to his mishandling of classified documents he took with him when he left the White House.
- Federal or state? Federal
- Possible prison time? The various counts have potential prison sentences ranging from five to 10 years.
- Indictment date? June 9, 2023
- Trial date? May 2024
What to know:
On June 9, Trump was charged again — this time on 37 felony counts of federal crimes, including 31 counts for the alleged willful retention of national defense documents, plus a few more counts on things like conspiracy to corrupt justice and withholding a document or record. Fast forward just under two months, and on July 27, Trump was hit with an additional three felony charges for this case, including two alleging he had ordered a computer server with incriminating security camera footage to be deleted.
The case comes from the many, many boxes of documents that Trump took with him when he left the White House at the end of his presidency — boxes that allegedly included sensitive and classified material that related to a number of national security issues, such as America’s nuclear capabilities and data about U.S. and allied vulnerabilities and possible responses to attacks. The indictment alleges that Trump not only bragged about the documents and showed them off willy-nilly, but that he was careless and haphazard about securing the sensitive information. To wit: The indictment includes a photo showing boxes of documents stored in a bathroom, as well as one of an overturned box with documents, including at least one classified document, spilled across the floor. (The indictment also includes the alleged text from a staffer alerted to the spill: “Oh no oh no.”)
Trump, for his part, has asserted that he had every right to take and keep the documents, despite the fact the same law he has cited to defend himself says otherwise.
The case is one of two being brought by special counsel Jack Smith. (We’ll get to the other one in a moment.)
The trial, which is set for May 2024, is being overseen by Judge Aileen Cannon, herself a Trump appointee who was confirmed to the bench just a few days after the 2020 election. Her oversight of the case has been controversial: Democrats have already called for her recusal after one of her previous rulings ― which favored Trump ― was found to be based on shaky legal reasoning and was overturned by a higher court.
Jan. 6 Coup Conspiracy: Federal
Trump was charged with four counts of conspiracy for his role in election denial and perpetuating the lie that there had been fraud in the 2020 election, which ultimately led to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
- Federal or state? Federal
- Possible prison time? The various charges have maximum prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years.
- Indictment date? Aug. 1, 2023
- Trial date? Prosecutors have requested January 2024.
What To Know:
Remember how I said we’ll get back to that other Jack Smith case? Here we go.
On Aug. 1, Trump was indicted for the third time, this time on four federal charges of conspiracy relating to Trump’s Big Lie — the false assertion that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election and that voting fraud had stolen the election from him.
In a 45-page indictment, prosecutors drew a straight line from Trump’s false claims to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, when his supporters stormed the building in a violent attempt to prevent the certification of the 2020 election results.
Trump is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. The charges stem from what prosecutors allege were three main criminal conspiracies. Trump is accused of conspiracy to use “dishonesty, fraud, and deceit” to obstruct the counting and certification of the election results in general; of conspiracy to disrupt the actual legal process of certifying the election; and that his efforts to overturn the election in general amount to a conspiracy to deny Americans the right to have their vote counted.
“The attack on our nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Smith said in a press statement shortly after the indictment was released. “As described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies – lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government: The nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
In a statement posted to his social media site Truth Social, Trump called the charges “fake” and compared the investigation to something from Nazi Germany. He also suggested the charges were, in turn, an attempt to interfere with the upcoming 2024 election.
Election Interference: Georgia
Trump was charged, along with 18 others, of violating Georgia’s laws against racketeering for leading efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.
- Federal or state? State
- Possible prison time? The charges against Trump have maximum prison sentences of anywhere from 2 1/2 years to 20 years.
Indictment date? Aug. 14Trial date? Not yet selected, although prosecutors have requested March 2024. Those charged must surrender to authorities by Aug. 25.
What To Know:
Late on the night of Aug. 14, Trump’s (probably) final big indictment was handed down, as Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis charged him — along with 18 allies — for alleged racketeering over his concerted attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.
In the indictment, prosecutors allege that Trump, along with his allies, engaged in a conspiracy to overturn the election through various means, including pressuring or intimidating public officials, putting forth false electors and false documentation. All 19 defendants are charged with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which targets criminal enterprises and organized crime.
Trump himself was charged with 13 felony counts, among them three counts of solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer, two counts of conspiracy to commit false statements and writings, and, of course, one count of violating Georgia’s RICO Act, which covers the entirety of the alleged plot. In a post to Truth Social, Trump once again called the latest indictment a “witch hunt.”
The 18 allies charged include many big names from Trump’s circle, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani; his former chief of staff Mark Meadows; and election denier lawyers Sidney Powell, John Eastman and Jenna Ellis. Also indicted are several lesser known figures, like local election officials who participated in the campaign.
The indictment lists 161 individual acts that the defendants allegedly took to further the conspiracy, and they are wide ranging: everything from Trump’s tweets to straight-up alleged perjury.
In the weeks between the election and Biden’s inauguration, Trump made several efforts to pressure Georgia officials to somehow produce a win for him in the state, most notably via a January 2021 phone call to Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In the call, which was later leaked to the press, Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes — one more than the margin by which Joe Biden won the state. Trump has defended the call as “perfect.”
Georgia is also one of several states in which fake electors claiming a Trump win falsely put themselves forward as representing the state via the electoral college vote. In May of this year, an attorney for eight of the 16 Georgia fake electors revealed that Willis’ office had struck an immunity deal with her clients, indicating that they had likely cooperated with the investigation.
Of all the various indictments, this one may be the most dangerous to Trump. For one thing, the range and scope of the indictment — bringing in everything from Trump’s tweets to his call to Raffensperger, as well as tying him to 18 co-defendants — makes for a much more tangled web for the former president to try to wiggle out of. On top of that, since the charges are at the state level, they can not be pardoned by a president, meaning that even winning the 2024 election won’t get Trump off the hook if he’s convicted.