Trump’s trials and tribulations: What you need to know

Former President Donald Trump leaving Manhattan criminal court after a hearing on the Hush Money trial. Credit: AP

Donald Trump is facing four major criminal trials each of which could have a significant impact on the course of the election.

They vary from the most serious, in which he is accused of trying to overturn the 2020 election, to the bizarre in which he is accused of paying off an adult film star and then covering up the payments in company accounts.

Hush Money Trial in New York

This is being brought by the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

It’s been years in the making and is the first case to go to trial, with its start having been delayed by the recent disclosure of 172 pages of new documents by federal investigators from the Southern District of New York.

They had previously looked at prosecuting Trump but never proceeded, worried about the reliability of witness Michael Cohen.

The case centres around alleged hush money payments the Trump organisation made to silence Stormy Daniels, an adult film star with whom Trump allegedly had an affair, and former playboy bunny Karen McDougal.

The payments were allegedly covered up in the company accounts, disguised as payments to his lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.

Michael Cohen began a three-year prison sentence for crimes including campaign finance violations related to hush-money payments in 2019. Credit: AP

Cohen has admitted the payments were not for his services but were reimbursement for paying off the two women.

Cohen was sentenced to three years for charges relating to this case, including tax evasion and campaign finance violations.

Misrepresenting payments in company accounts in this manner is a misdemeanor.

What makes this a felony (a more serious crime) is that by covering up these payments, it also covered up breaches of America’s political campaign finance laws.

Prosecutors will seek to show that by ensuring the story of Trump’s affairs was buried until after the election in 2016, it amounted to a benefit to his campaign.

Risk to Trump: Unlikely to serve jail time but a hefty fine is likely and would become a convicted felon if found guilty.

Timeline: The case started on April 15. This was delayed from an original start date of March 25 as both sides had to assess new evidence.

Federal January 6 Trial

Donald Trump is facing four counts in this trial, for which no date has yet been set.

The first charge is conspiracy to defraud the United States.

In the words of the indictment, Trump is accused of “knowingly using false claims of election fraud to obstruct the Federal Government function by which those results are collected, counted, and certified.”

It sets out how Trump and co-conspirators organised fraudulent slates of electors in seven target states.

Prosecutors will also attempt to show the former president knew he had lost and therefore demonstrate his corrupt intent.

The second two charges relate to the tumultuous events of January 6 when Trump is accused of obstructing and conspiring to obstruct vote certification proceedings on that day.

The fourth relates to violating civil rights, by attempting to reverse results in states with close results.

Special Counsel Jack Smith is prosecuting this case.

Trump’s lawyers have sought to delay this case by appealing to the Supreme Court, arguing he enjoyed presidential immunity while in the White House and therefore cannot be prosecuted for his actions while in office.

The Supreme Court is currently considering this case, and may not rule until later in summer, meaning this trial is in danger of not concluding before the election on November 5.

Risk to Trump: Risks prison time.

Timeline: Could start in the autumn at the earliest, meaning concluding it before November’s election will be tight. Trump’s team is hoping to push it back as far as they can.

State Election Case in Georgia

This case relates to Trump and 18 other defendants' alleged conspiracy to overturn election results in Georgia.

Among those accused in this case, are Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

It uses powerful racketeering charges against the group.

The defendants are also accused of making false statements, forgery, impersonating a public officer, and soliciting public officers to violate their oaths.

The fact that Rudy Giuliani facing racketeering charges is ironic given he helped to pioneer the use of RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations) charges against New York organised crime.

Former Mayor of New York, and lawyer for Former President Trump, Rudy Giuliani. Credit: AP

It’s alleged Trump’s allies tried to get access to voting equipment and voter data in Georgia.

The indictment sets out several acts which taken together represent a complex conspiracy.

The first of those is when Trump falsely declared victory on November 4, 2020.

The trial has been brought by the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in Atlanta.

She faced accusations of a conflict of interest by having a relationship with one of the lead prosecutors who she hired, Nathan Wade.

He was forced to quit as a result.

Risk to Trump: Prison time, not just for Trump but for some of his key allies including his former lawyer and Chief of Staff. This would be devastating for the reputation of his administration.

Timeline: The date was set for August 5 but this might now be in doubt as not only has the Willis-Wade issue taken up weeks of court time, but there is also a looming question over presidential immunity which will mean, like the January 6 case, this trial won’t be able to begin until the Supreme Court rules in the summer.

Federal Classified Documents case in Florida

This case presents perhaps the toughest challenge for Trump’s lawyers.

It concerns the removal of classified documents from the White House to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Image used in indictment against Trump showing boxes of records being stored on the stage in the Ballroom at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. Credit: Justice Department

The indictment details 32 counts of removing restricted paperwork, although the actual number of documents he removed ran into the hundreds.

Classified documents being stored in Trump's Mar-a-Lago home. Credit: Justice Department

He is facing seven charges relating to obstructing the investigation and three counts of making false statements.

The indictment sets out phone records and surveillance footage linking Trump directly to his valet Walt Nauta and efforts to hide the documents.

Originally just Trump and Nauta were charged last August, but since then a superseding indictment was issued adding another defendant Carlos De Oliveira who was a maintenance supervisor at Mar-a-Lago.

He is accused of attempting to erase video evidence from the property’s CCTV system.

The indictment included photos showing boxes of classified documents stored in the ballroom of Mar-a-Lago, as well as a bathroom.

It also details how Trump appeared to boast of having a classified document written by his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley detailing plans to attack Iran.

In a recorded conversation with a writer at his New Jersey Golf course, Trump is heard bragging about the document which he seems to be holding, admitting it is “highly confidential” and that he “could have declassified it”, but “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret”.

Prosecutors later added an Espionage Act charge to the superseding indictment relating to this taped conversation.

They also added another charge relating to the Top Secret document at the centre of this conversation which they say Donald Trump retained until January 17, 2022, long after his lawyers handed over boxes of documents to the Department of Justice and the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago.

This Federal case has also been brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith in Florida.

Risk to Trump: This is the most watertight case he is fighting and could result in significant jail time.

Timeline: Due to start May 20, but now on ice pending various hearings before Judge Aileen Cannon.

If Trump wins the election he could direct the Department of Justice to drop the two Federal cases if they hadn’t concluded, but he would not have the power to direct New York and Georgia’s District Attorney’s State to drop their cases.

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