Monday briefing: The four criminal cases that could leave Donald Trump in real trouble
Good morning. I realise you will probably cock an eyebrow when you read this, so please know that it’s said advisedly: Donald Trump is in fairly serious trouble.
Post-locker room talk, post-Mueller, post-tax returns, post-everything you may take such claims with a pinch of salt – but today the array of problems facing Trump look different. He is drifting far from the high-water mark of his popularity, many of his former supporters show signs of wanting to move on, and the legal consequences that may befall him are hard to shake off by sheer force of incoherent social media post.
If you’ve long tuned out the particulars of the scandals attached to the former president, that’s understandable. But after a decision on criminal charges in one case was delayed last week, an indictment is still thought to be possible within the next few days: while Trump claimed on Saturday that “they’ve already dropped the case”, it may be forcing your attention again. As David Smith wrote on Saturday, in a piece examining the grip the legal dramas are exerting on the American psyche: “Trump is still living rent-free in the nation’s head.”
Today’s newsletter checks in on the four key cases Trump is dealing with, and explains what might happen next. Here are the headlines.
Five big stories
Israel | Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest after Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defence minister over his opposition to a planned judicial overhaul. Yoav Gallant was the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against the plan, which critics say remove crucial guards against authoritarianism.
SNP | The Scottish National party is preparing to announce later on Monday which candidate has won the bitterly contested battle to be Scotland’s next first minister, with Nicola Sturgeon’s preferred candidate, Humza Yousaf, widely considered the favourite. Read what’s in the winner’s in-tray.
NHS | The NHS in England needs a massive injection of homegrown doctors, nurses, GPs and dentists to avert a recruitment crisis that could leave it short of 571,000 staff, according to an internal document seen by the Guardian. The workforce plan says that the health service is already 154,000 staff short.
Russia | Ukraine has accused Russia of destabilising Belarus and making its smaller neighbour into “a nuclear hostage”, after Vladimir Putin announced a deal to station tactical nuclear weapons there. It is the first time Putin has announced a plan to station nuclear weapons in another country.
Nitrous oxide | Michael Gove has defended the government’s plans to ban the sale of laughing gas despite counsel from the UK’s drug advisory panel not to do so. Gove said that the use of nitrous oxide canisters was “despoiling public spaces” and “contributes to antisocial behaviour overall”.
In depth: From hush money to January 6 – why Trump is in serious legal jeopardy
Two years ago, the US outlet Just Security started to track every significant piece of criminal and civil litigation involving Donald Trump, and it’s been updating the list ever since. As well as 13 civil suits, it notes 23 criminal cases. So far, Donald Trump has personally faced charges in exactly none of them.
That may be about to change. After a five-year investigation of hush money allegedly paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels, the Manhattan district attorney investigating is understood to be on the brink of securing an indictment. If Trump is ultimately convicted, he could theoretically be sentenced to as much as four years in prison.
So that’s the most urgent legal problem facing the former president – but he has plenty more on his plate, some of it more serious. True to form, he is attempting to use the investigations as a rallying tool, telling his supporters on Saturday: “The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated.” Here’s a beginner’s guide to the criminal cases under way.
The Stormy Daniels case
What it’s about | In 2016, before the election, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen made a payment of $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels, who had been trying to sell the story of her affair with Trump (which he denies) to the National Enquirer. Cohen was reimbursed in full by the Trump Organization. He eventually went to prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations.
While Trump was in the White House, prosecutors declined to pursue a case against him. But now Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg has signalled that charges could be imminent.
The exact contours of the likely charges are not public, but they look complicated. First, Bragg is thought to be trying to prove that Trump falsified records of reimbursements to Cohen, making them look like a “retainer agreement”. That would be a misdemeanour rather than a felony – but Bragg may then try to show that Trump mischaracterised the payments in order to cover up a felony, probably a violation of state election law via an improper campaign donation.
The grand jury was due to meet last week, with Trump himself setting off frenzied speculation by predicting that he would be “arrested on Tuesday”. His lawyer said yesterday that was based on “rumours”, and the grand jury meeting was postponed twice. (Adam Gabbatt wrote about the weird sense of anticlimax outside the Manhattan criminal court that was the result.) Nonetheless, an indictment is still thought to be on the cards.
What it could mean | Although a charge of violating New York state election law carries a sentence of up to four years in prison, that is still some distance away. Trump could be found guilty and receive a sentence short of incarceration. No federal election candidate has ever been charged in the way Bragg appears to intend, and it is also possible a judge could throw out the case.
Trump, for his part, has cast the case as a “witch-hunt”, and raised the prospect of “death and destruction” if he is charged. He is also seeking to turn his possible arrest into an opportunity: Hugo Lowell reports that he has told advisers he hopes to be handcuffed to make the case a “spectacle”. Recent fundraising emails have sought donations by claiming that the prosecution is the work of “the Deep State”, and pulled in $1.5m in three days.
One wider reason the case is significant, according to Evan Osnos of the New Yorker: it sets a precedent that makes it easier for others to proceed. He said on the Political Scene podcast: “Even if the New York case is not the most serious of the allegations … it’s no longer a question of whether Donald Trump is impervious, it’s now just a question of whether [each] case on its own has the merits to go forward.”
The classified documents case
What it’s about | Last summer, the FBI found a cache of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. A special counsel, Jack Smith, was then appointed to conduct a criminal investigation. As well as charges relating to Trump’s handling of the documents itself, there is the possibility he could be charged with orchestrating the obstruction of the FBI’s efforts to retrieve them. According to Trump, it’s another “witch-hunt”.
What it could mean | Smith is still gathering evidence, and is some distance from filing charges. Again, Trump could theoretically face prison time; if he was found guilty of concealing or destroying official documents, he could also be banned from holding public office, although some legal analysts suggest that such a ban could be unconstitutional.
The Georgia election fraud case
What it’s about | After a recording emerged in 2021 of Trump urging Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to “find” extra votes to get him over the line, Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis began a wider investigation into his alleged attempts to subvert the result of the election.
The forewoman of a special grand jury considering the case said that a dozen people were likely to face indictments, and when asked if one of them would be Trump, said: “You’re not going to be shocked.” If so, the next stage is for Willis to decide whether to press on with indicting Trump. CNN reported this week that she is considering racketeering and conspiracy charges – used to pursue organised criminal enterprises.
What it could mean | Racketeering and conspiracy charges could theoretically carry long prison sentences. Unsurprisingly, Trump and his legal team fiercely reject the premise of the cases against him as “blatantly unconstitutional”, and have filed a motion asking for Willis to be disqualified from the case. Some observers have also suggested that any case resting on his call to Raffensperger would be difficult to prove because it requires proving his deliberate intent to interfere with the results – and he would argue that he merely wanted the official to find uncounted legitimate votes.
The January 6 case
What it’s about | After the riots at the US Capitol by Trump supporters in the aftermath of Joe Biden’s election victory, a congressional committee investigated Trump’s role in attempting to overturn the result and inciting the insurrection. It ultimately recommended four criminal charges against Trump, and referred them to the justice department.
That was largely symbolic, since the justice department was already running an investigation, again via special counsel Jack Smith. Very little has leaked out of his investigation, but he appears to be seeking to conclude by the summer, and has subpoenaed former vice-president Mike Pence as well as Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
What it could mean | With no details on what charges Smith is considering against the former president, it’s hard to say much about the likely outcome. Again, some of the offences under consideration could theoretically mean jail time, or that he is barred from public office – but they are mostly highly complex and highly politicised. Legal analysts suggest it will be hard for Smith to clear the bar to get guilty verdicts. The easiest win might be charging him with one of the more minor possible offences, conspiracy to make a false statement, the Los Angeles Times reported in December.
How the four cases could affect Trump’s future
Set aside the prospect of jail time, which most observers see as highly unlikely, and the big question is whether the controversy around the cases will help or hinder Trump’s re-election campaign.
There is no general bar on someone with a criminal conviction becoming president, and Trump himself is treating the cases as evidence of a conspiracy that only proves how much he is feared by the establishment.
But even if that works, the burden of a criminal case is an obvious impediment to his ability to campaign effectively. And some argue that his base is now simply too small to rely on turnout to take him to victory, particularly when other Republican candidates like Ron DeSantis carry none of the same baggage. In a Politico piece headlined “Stop Overthinking It”, Alexander Burns wrote: “Trump needs to grow his support, not merely rev up people who already care deeply about his every utterance and obsession.”
What else we’ve been reading
When Suzanne Heywood was seven, her father announced that the family (above) would be taking a three-year round-the-world sailing adventure. It ended up taking over the rest of her childhood. Her piece for Saturday magazine about their life at sea is very sad, and truly astonishing. Archie
Regional newspapers have been struggling for a number of years and the latest figures make for bleak reading, writes Mark Sweney. While the mood in the industry seems is at its lowest, there is still some hope as a number of new local media outlets have steadily been gaining success. Nimo
The novelist Rebecca Watson writes beautifully about the unique narrative drama of football. “Watching football can have a kaleidoscopic lens,” she writes. “You’re holding the potential of what could happen, of what isn’t happening, of how things could be different.” Archie
Terri White reflects on returning to the place where she grew up and confronting a childhood marred by sexual and physical violence. White spoke to the teacher who never let her down and examines how the education system can protect vulnerable children today. Nimo
Childhood vaccination levels have been declining since the 1990s, writes Devi Sridhar – a problem only exacerbated by the pandemic. The problem “defies one simple explanation”, with everything from celebrity anti-vax voices to parental complacency playing a part. Archie
Football | England eased to a 2-0 victory over Ukraine at Wembley through goals from Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka (above). Meanwhile, Wales secured an unlikely 1-1 draw away to Croatia and Northern Ireland saw their hopes of qualifying hurt by a 1-0 defeat against Finland.
Boat race | Cambridge claimed victory against Oxford in both the men’s and women’s boat race. The results continue a period of dominance for Cambridge, with their women’s team winning for the sixth successive year and the men’s team winning their fourth of the last five.
Football | Antonio Conte’s well-advertised departure from Tottenham was finally confirmed on Sunday night, with the club announcing it was by “mutual agreement” after a week of behind-the-scenes turbulence. Julian Nagelsmann – sacked by Bayern Munich on Friday – is among the favourites to succeed him.
The front pages
“NHS chiefs sound alarm on spiralling staff shortages” is our Guardian print splash this morning. The i has “Sunak moves to calm Tory nerves ahead of crunch vote on small boats” and the Daily Express says “Tory rebels fight to close migrant loophole”. The Daily Telegraph leads with “PM targets beggars in crackdown on crime” and the Daily Mail looks at law and order too: “Sex offenders let off crimes … just by saying sorry”. The Daily Mirror follows up on news of MPs recorded in meetings about work for a fake South Korean firm, summarising Kwasi Kwarteng’s pitch: “Give me £10k a day and I can get you Boris”. “Over 800 sewage spills a day,” reports the Times. “Hippy crackdown” – that’s the Metro on the government’s plan to ban those little laughing gas canisters. The top story in the Financial Times today is “Investors pour $286bn into money market funds in scramble for safety”.
Today in Focus
Exposing the myth of Britain’s ‘perfect’ war against Islamic State
The UK government continues to claim that there were no civilian casualties as a result of its bombing campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq. Emma Graham-Harrison reports from Mosul on the evidence that cannot any longer be ignored
Cartoon of the day | Edith Pritchett
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A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad
After an unexpected divorce left Belinda Isley devastated, she found herself at a crossroads: she could either decide to stay in a state of anger or she could try to find the silver lining. Isley chose the latter. She started fostering newborn kittens and reconnected with two old friends. She went on walking adventures, trekking England coast to coast and walking the Camino de Santiago.
Now, at the age of nearly 69, Isley works as a house mom in a college sorority in Santa Barbara. It’s a full-on, live-in role, but she treasures it. Isley says the girls show her that “it’s important to work hard, but also to make time for fun”.
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Bored at work?
And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.