Multiple legal battles await Trump if he loses the U.S. election
TORONTO -- U.S. President Donald Trump has been shielded from criminal indictments during his four years in the White House thanks to special protections as president, but experts say he could face a deluge of legal battles if he loses the U.S. election next Tuesday.
“The second he is no longer a sitting president … I think you will be seeing attorney generals across the country, particularly in New York where I am here, pursuing these criminal actions against him as well,” New York-based attorney and legal analyst Terri Austin told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.
Trump has been sued dozens of times, over business dealings to allegations of sexual assault, but he has largely avoided lawsuits filed against him during his presidency, in part due to the special protections afforded by the White House. Trump’s lawyers have argued in court that the president should be offered immunity in cases that involve his conduct as a private citizen.
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Trump still faces numerous civil and criminal lawsuits, including defamation cases and an investigation into the finances of the Trump Organization.
Trump’s greatest legal power comes from an important legal exception afforded to the president. Former special counsel Robert Mueller said the president can’t be charged with a federal crime while in office, citing a longstanding Department of Justice policy that dates back to Richard Nixon’s presidency.
But that special power could come to an end in January, if Biden wins the White House. Such lawsuits have the potential to drive a wedge into already divided county, but Austin says she doesn’t think that’s possible.
“I don’t think it’s going to divide the U.S. any further. I think we’re about as far apart as we can get from a political standpoint,” she said.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest legal battles Trump could face if he loses the election.
OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE
In his investigation into Trump’s attempts to impede the Russia investigation, Mueller found evidence that Trump had committed obstruction of justice, but did not charge him.
Those charges could be revived under a Biden administration, or if other law enforcement officials revisit the case.
Mueller was asked during congressional testimony whether he believed it was possible to charge the president with a crime after he left office.
"Yes," Mueller replied.
Austin said she wouldn’t be surprised to see the case return to the national spotlight if a judge agrees to revisit it.
“Even though the Mueller report … came out with no conspiracy with Russia to interfere in the election, Mueller did say there were 10 counts of obstruction,” she said, calling it Trump’s biggest legal threat.
Protections from the presidency also came into play during the case involving Trump and his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen over hush-money payments made to two women, including the adult film actress Stormy Daniels, over alleged affairs.
Trump has denied any affairs and has personally attacked Daniels on Twitter, calling her “horseface,” which prompted a bitter back-and-forth.
Cohen pleaded guilty to his involvement in the hush money payments and said under oath that Trump directed him to break the law. Cohen also received reimbursements from the Trump organization in connection with those payments in 2017, which suggests the five-year statute of limitations could extend into 2022.
“That is also a very big issue, so that could really get him at the end of the day,” Austin said.
While Trump has never released his full tax returns, leaked information and high-profile investigations suggest that the president has avoided paying millions of dollars in taxes.
A New York Times investigation suggested that Trump paid zero federal income taxes in 10 out of 15 years beginning in 2000, because he reported losing significantly more money than he made. In his first two years in the White House, Trump paid just $750 in federal taxes, according to the report.
Among the finer details are allegations that Trump’s production company wrote off thousands of dollars in his hair care while filming “The Apprentice.” It is illegal to claim personal expenses as taxable business write-offs.
Trump has denied the accuracy of the reporting and said he can’t release his tax returns because he’s under audit by the IRS. But top government officials say there is no reason to prevent Trump from releasing the returns.
Amidst the #MeToo movement, American magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll published allegations in her book that Trump raped her in a luxury department store dressing room in the 1990s.
Trump denied the allegations, saying “She’s not my type,” and accused Carroll of lying in an attempt to sell more books. Carroll then sued Trump for defamation, saying she has DNA to prove what happened to her and asked for Trump to provide a DNA sample.
On Tuesday, a federal judge denied attempts by the Justice Department to quash the case by substituting itself for Trump as defendant in the case.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that Trump "is not an 'employee of the Government,’” and, by that logic, the case couldn’t be argued against the United States.
The decision opens the door for Trump to be sued personally in the case, rather than being shielded by the government.
FAMILY FRAUD ALLEGATIONS
One of the most recent lawsuits against Trump comes from his niece, Mary Trump, who sued Trump and his siblings in September over allegations of fraud involving the family business.
Mary Trump alleged that Trump and his siblings took efforts to deprive her of her interests in the family’s real-estate empire, asserting that “fraud was not just the family business — it was a way of life.”
The “complex scheme” that Trump’s niece alleges includes forcing her to sign a settlement agreement that "fleeced her of tens of millions of dollars or more.”
Altogether, the existing lawsuits and potentially revived cases represent a headache for Trump if he fails to win his bid for re-election. Some legal experts have suggested that Trump could choose, if he loses, to try to pardon himself for federal crimes before he leaves office.
Austin says Trump has more or less been kicking the civil lawsuits against him down the line, but that the criminal cases against him — which he’s been protected from being charged in — could catch up to him.
Regardless of what happens next week, Austin says it’s important that the justice system treats Trump like any American citizen accused of a crime.
“I think at the end of the day, there will be many people who think that these actions should be pursued against Trump and that no one, including the president of the United States, or former president of the United States, is above the law.”
With files from The Associated Press