ALBANY — Donald Trump is out of the White House but as a private citizen he’s not out of legal hot water on multiple fronts.
On Thursday, Trump’s lawyers turned over eight years’ worth of tax returns to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who is pursuing possible tax fraud charges.
It marked the latest development in one of many legal fights ahead for the ex-president.
In New York, State Attorney General Letitia James is pursuing a lawsuit claiming the Trump Organization overstated the value of a Westchester property to get a tax break, only to later understate its value when it came time to paying the property tax bill.
Elsewhere, Trump is facing an investigation into his attempt to coerce Georgia officials to “find” enough votes to change the election outcome there. At least one lawsuit has been filed about his role in promoting the Jan. 6 attempt to take over the U.S. Capitol and block the Electoral College vote.
And there are still lawsuits by women who say Trump sexually harassed them.
No previous president has left office in so much legal trouble, scholars say.
“There is absolutely nothing like this at all,” said Paul Finkelman, a legal historian who has written more than 50 books and is president of Gratz College in Pennsylvania. “Like much of Trump’s presidency, his post-presidency is unprecedented. There is literally no one to compare him to.”
Other presidents, such as Bill Clinton, said they were financially “broke” upon leaving office. Andrew Johnson, who in 1868 became the first president to be impeached, was “disgraced” and “despised” after his departure, Finkelman said. But he never faced legal issues.
Trump has said the cases amount to a “witch hunt,” claimed they were “attacks by Democrats,” and that he was the target of “headhunting prosecutors.”
“He tried to delay them as much as possible,” Cornell University criminal law professor Jens Ohlin said, referring to the Trump cases in general. “But now that he’s out of office, he no longer has a (path to delay). Now, he’s just like anyone else.”
Trump’s legal entanglements jumped back into national view with a huge development last week in New York.
The U.S. Supreme Court ended an 18-month standoff by rejecting Trump’s bid to block the Manhattan district attorney’s attempt to obtain eight years’ worth of tax records. That paves the way for a grand jury to review the documents.
Days later, Vance’s office said it had enforced subpoenas in the case and obtained the records it sought.
Vance’s probe began after Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, told Congress he paid hush money to two of the president’s ex-paramours.
Filings in the case reportedly suggest Vance also is looking at possible tax and insurance fraud.
In Georgia, Trump is under criminal investigation for pressuring the secretary of state to “find 11,870 votes” — one more than he would have needed to overturn the state election results for Democrat President Joe Biden.
The Georgia official recorded the phone call, which was disseminated in the media. Trump also called Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, pushing him to call a special session of the legislature to elect a slate of Trump electors to overturn Biden’s win.
An Atlanta prosecutor is pursuing possible charges of racketeering, conspiracy and solicitation of election fraud.
“His biggest problem now are these criminal cases,” Ohlin said.
New York state
Attorney General Letitia James is investigating whether the Trump Organization inflated the value of his assets and property to obtain better terms for loans and insurance, only to reverse and deflate values to reduce his liability when it came time to pay property taxes.
Two of the four properties involved in the case are in New York: one on Wall Street and another in Westchester County. Vance’s investigation also is reported to be looking at the Westchester parcel and has issued subpoenas there. Vance has jurisdiction in part because the Trump Organization is headquartered in Manhattan.
James has filed motions to compel testimony and documents in a state trial court. The latest milestone came in January when a judge ruled James should have access to certain documents. James’ probe is a civil, not criminal, investigation.
Trump’s lawyers have said the organization has followed all applicable laws and that James was politically motivated.
The Jan. 6 Capitol riot
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) filed a civil lawsuit alleging Trump, Rudy Giuliani (Trump’s personal lawyer) and two far-right groups conspired to incite the mob that broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop lawmakers from certifying Biden’s election victory.
Thompson said the mob tried to prevent him from discharging his duties to approve the vote count. He said he wants the lawsuit to set precedent for any similar future attempts. Trump lawyers have denied he incited the attack. The Senate failed to reach a two-thirds majority in his impeachment trial and acquitted Trump.
Two defamation lawsuits against Trump continue by women who claimed Trump sexually assaulted them, then smeared them when the claims became public.
Trump has denied the allegations.
Another defamation suit — filed by adult film star Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels — recently was terminated when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear her appeal.
“There are various possibilities here about hiding assets or overvaluing, or undervaluing, assets,” said William C. Banks, a Syracuse University Law professor. “These are garden variety crimes that people with more money than me or you get investigated for.”
He said Trump and his supporters will claim prosecutorial overreach and it’s possible some officials might decide not to push some cases further.
“Prosecution in the city of New York or the state of New York or elsewhere is, ultimately, a judgment call,” Banks said. “You don’t have to bring charges. Even if you bring charges, you don’t have to go to trial.”
Finkelman believes the reason Trump is in precedented legal trouble for an ex-president boils down to two factors: No predecessor tried to manipulate the outcome of the election as Trump did and Trump is alone among modern presidents in not making public his tax returns and not putting his assets in a blind trust while in office.
“Wealthy presidents, like John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, had a proper wall between their personal finances and their time as president,” Finkelman said. “With Trump, not only did he absolutely refuse to do this, but he enriched himself and his family” by having military, government officials and others use his hotels, golf courses and other properties while in office.
Now, Finkelman pointed out, prosecutors will be “going through Trump’s tax returns with a fine-toothed comb.”