Donald Trump is currently under criminal investigation. The FBI have raided his house in Florida, he has been interviewed by lawyers in New York, 850 of his supporters arrested, and his allies accused in Georgia. Interestingly, these events are actually part of four separate criminal investigations connected to Trump and his companies! Let’s learn more about Trump’s legal troubles today, while practicing some political and legal English!
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Investigation (n) – the act or process of examining a crime, problem, statement
An investigation is under way into the disappearance of a 70-year-old man
To charge (v) – to make a formal statement saying that someone is accused of a crime
She’s been charged with murder
Offence (n) – an illegal act; a crime
Driving without a license is an offence
Federal (adj) – relating to the central government, and not to the government of a region
He broke both state and federal laws
Classified (adj) – classified information is officially stated to be secret
These documents contain classified material
To violate (v) – to break or act against something, especially a law, agreement, principle, or something that should be treated with respect
They were charged with violating federal law
To sentence (v) – to decide and say officially what a punishment will be
He was sentenced to life imprisonment
To prosecute (v) – to officially accuse someone of committing a crime in a law court
Shoplifters will be prosecuted
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Donald Trump is a businessman, TV personality, and the 45th president of the USA. I think it is fair to say that, in comparison with previous US presidents, Trump is unique. When he lost the 2020 election, rather than respectfully and peacefully accepting defeat, Trump reacted with denial, anger, and accusations.
He has been banned from social media, believes that the 2020 election was rigged or stolen, and is still influencing the American right wing. Despite being out of office for the past 2 years, there is barely a day without Trump being in the news headlines. And there is a strong possibility that he will run for the presidency again in 2024… and may even win!
There are a few obstacles in his way over the next few months and years. While he has competition from other popular Republicans (like the Florida Governor Rick DeSantis) and will need to defeat the Democrat party nominee… perhaps his biggest challenge will be legal.
Trump is currently under investigation by the US law enforcement agencies. Last month, the world was shocked as the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. The officers retrieved over 100 classified documents, some of which concerned nuclear weapons, which Trump had failed to return after losing the election.
This is part of an investigation into the “improper handling of federal records” by the national archives. And if charged with an offence, and if then found guilty, Trump may eventually face some serious consequences.
The problem with Donald Trump, however, is that he doesn’t make things simple. The FBI raid was part of one investigation… but not the only investigation into Trump. In fact, Trump is currently facing 4 different investigations. Not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 separate legal investigations. Although unlikely, there is a chance Trump could be convicted in 4 different cases for 4 different crimes…
Keeping track of Trump’s legal problems is not simple – so I thought I would summarize each of the cases for you today! And at the same time, we can learn and use some useful legal and political vocabulary, and practice talking about the former President!
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The Four Investigations into Donald Trump
As I said, there are currently four investigations concerning Donald Trump. These are all criminal investigations: two are at the federal level and two are state based. The cases cover Trump’s actions before, during, and after his time as president.
The cases are an investigation into classified documents, the investigation into the January 6th insurrection, an investigation into the State of Georgia’s election, and New York’s investigation into Trump’s businesses.
It is important to say that all of these cases are ongoing, and Trump has not yet been charged with any crimes. There is a possibility Trump will never get charged or convicted of anything. There is also a chance that he will get charged with a crime… and even if just once of the four cases leads to a conviction, he could theoretically spend years in prison!
Let’s take a look at these cases.
Classified Document Investigation
Let’s start with the investigation that led to a raid on Trump’s residence in Florida. The Department of Justice is currently investigating the possible mishandling of classified documents. Classified documents are supposed to be kept secret, confidential, and should be returned to the National Archives once a president leaves office.
In August, the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago and seized over 100 documents. Some of the documents had the label “sensitive compartmented information” – which is used only for the most secret documents that are usually stored in special locations. According to the Washington Post the documents were connected to nuclear weapons. This information is not supposed to be in a private residence of a former president.
The FBI believes Trump may have violated a number of laws. For example, there are laws against mishandling, destroying, and hiding government documents. And the most serious issue could be a violation of the Espionage Act. It is a crime to keep important national security information rather than return it to the United States government.
Importantly, reports suggest that Trump refused to return the documents when asked by law enforcement agencies. The Justice Department had tried to negotiate and use legal methods to get the documents back… but Trump’s lawyers signed a statement claiming all documents had been returned. The FBI did not believe this and decided to raid Trump’s residence.
If Trump did violate the Espionage Act, he could be sentenced to up 10 years in prison. However, it is unlikely he will be charged with stealing classified information anytime soon. The Department of Justice is very cautious over influencing elections – so we may need to wait until after ther November midterm elections before there are any updates on this case
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Investigation into January 6th
The second federal investigation Trump is facing relates to the January 6th insurrection and attack on the US Capitol building. I’m sure you all remember Trump supporters breaking into the Capitol building, assaulting police officers, and attempting to intimidate Congress officials.
Hundreds of individuals have been arrested, charged, and some are already convicted for their involvement in violence on January 6th. 830 people have been charged in connection and earlier this year the Department of Justice hired 131 new lawyers to prosecute these cases. According to the US Attorney General, the Department of Justice “remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law.”
We don’t know whether Trump’s role in the insurrection is directly under investigation – the Justice department does not comment on ongoing cases, and he has not been charged or interviewed yet. However, there are signs he may be under investigation. Experts have suggested that Trump’s efforts to overturn the election result may have violated laws protecting Congress!
Georgia Election Investigation
In 2020, the Trump campaign attempted to interfere in the state of Georgia’s election by using fake members of the electoral college (the way elections are conducted in the US) to choose Trump over Biden.
Last year, an investigation was launched targeting the 16 “fake electors” used by Trump’s campaign and there is the possibility of criminal charges. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, lawyer, and member of Trump’s inner circle, is also being targeted by the investigation. Another Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham is also under investigation due to his actions in Georgia post-election.
All of the individuals involved in Trump’s campaign in Georgia are refusing to participate or challenging the investigations, so we don’t know yet whether Tump will be accused or be connected to crimes.
However, Trump famously demanded that the Georgia election officials “find 11,780 votes” – the number needed for him to win the state. Georgia laws make it a crime to tamper in elections or encourage others to commit a crime… so there is potential for Trump to be charged in relation to this!
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New York Investigations into Trump’s Businesses
And finally, Trump is under investigation by New York. Actually, it is probably more accurate to say that Trump’s businesses are under investigation for financial fraud. Although small, there is a chance that criminal charges could occur.
For the past three years, the New York attorney general has been investigating whether the Trump Organization has misled banks and tax officials on the value of its assets. More specifically, they are accused of pretending to have a higher value to get loans, and then pretending to have a lower value to pay less tax. Trump was actually interviewed as part of the investigation a few months ago.
At the same time, another investigation is being led by the Manhattan district attorney. While the New York case is a civil case, the Manhattan case is a criminal investigation. However, the official in charge of this investigation is reluctant to charge Trump directly – and is instead targeting other members of the Organization.
What will happen next?
Criminal investigations are designed to convict criminals after a full trial. They are not designed to tell us what is happening at every second. While it is frustrating, it may be years before we know the conclusions of these investigations. And the Department of Justice, or other organsiations, do not comment on active investigations.
The same can’t be said about Trump or his campaign. Over the following weeks, months, and years you will hear a lot about these investigations… but from the Trump campaign’s perspective. Trump is already telling lies or twisting the truth about the FBI raid on his property. He complained that the FBI “stole” his passports… but the FBI actually returned them as soon as possible.
What do you think will happen next? Do you think Trump will be charged criminally? Which of the investigations into Trump is the most likely to lead to a conviction? How about in your country – are there any investigations into your politicians or leaders?