Trump now owes more than $500m. How will he pay?

<span>Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday.</span><span>Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP</span>
Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday.Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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On the docket: Trump’s cash crunch

Donald Trump has a lot of major financial decisions to make following Judge Arthur Engoron’s Friday order that he owes more than $350m in penalties in his New York state business fraud case – and the clock is ticking for him to make them.

He essentially has two options: pay now, or potentially pay a lot more later.

The court gave the former US president 30 days from the verdict, or 17 March, to figure out what to do. But the $350m verdict is only the beginning: Engoron’s decision also ordered Trump to pay additional pre-judgment interest going back as far as when New York attorney general Letitia James began her investigation in March 2019.

The attorney general’s office has calculated the interest due so far brings the current total he owes to more than $450m; the statutory 9% annual interest rate will keep accruing at more than $600,000 per week unless Trump puts up the entire amount.

Since Trump plans to appeal the verdict, the only ways to pause the interest collection are either to park the full amount in a New York state-controlled escrow account or find a company prepared to help him post a bond that will assure the state he can pay the penalties if his appeals fail – for a hefty fee, of course.

It’s unclear if Trump has the cash to post the full amount. Trump said under oath last year that he had roughly $400m in liquid assets, not quite enough to cover what he’d need to put into escrow.

As the Guardian US’s Hugo Lowell reported on Monday: “Trump’s preference is to avoid using his own money while he appeals.” But to obtain a bond, Trump would have to find a company willing to do business with him and “would then have to pay a premium to the bond company and offer collateral, probably in the form of his most prized assets”, like his real estate holdings.

Trump is also hemmed in by the verdict’s restriction barring his company from applying for a loan from any firm that does business in New York for the next three years, potentially limiting his options to secure the money for that bond.

And don’t forget that this isn’t all he owes in recent court judgments. Trump already put $5.5m into a state-controlled escrow account to cover the first defamation judgment that he owes E Jean Carroll. He owes another $83m to Carroll following a late January federal court ruling that he had defamed her again.

Trump has so far declined to say what his plan is. When asked during a Fox News town hall on Wednesday how he plans to pay his legal fines, he instead pivoted to comparing his loss in court to Vladimir Putin’s apparent murder of Alexei Navalny, the Russian strongman’s chief political foe. “It is a form of Navalny,” he remarked, dodging the question.

Attorney general James told ABC News on Tuesday that she is prepared to “​​ask the judge to seize his assets” if Trump can’t or won’t pay the amount – including some of his most iconic properties. “Yes, I look at 40 Wall Street each and every day,” she said.

It’s unlikely things would get to that point. But while winning the presidency this year could give him power to shut down the federal criminal cases he’s facing, it won’t help him shrug off civil liability in the New York state court.

“This is going to stick with him if he does not prevail on an appeal,” Columbia University law professor Eric Talley said.

Calendar crunch

New York judge Juan Merchan officially set a 25 March start date for Trump’s Stormy Daniels hush money trial last Thursday, positioning it to become Trump’s first criminal case – just weeks after his team expects him to lock up the GOP nomination for president. The trial is expected to last around six weeks, meaning the verdict could arrive sometime in mid-May.

The timing of Trump’s three other pending criminal trials are all uncertain, but major developments are expected soon that will give us a much better sense of which, if any, will come to fruition before the election.

In Georgia, the election interference criminal trial is in limbo until Judge Scott McAfee rules on whether a potential conflict of interest exists that justifies removing Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis from the case because of her romantic relationship with Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor she hired for the case. Willis, Wade and others testified in court late last week. McAfee may hold one more hearing on this before making a decision, which could come as early as next week.

In Washington DC, the criminal trial relating to Trump’s conduct on and before January 6 hinges on the US supreme court’s pending decision on whether to take up his claim of presidential criminal immunity.

If they decide to simply allow a lower court ruling against him to stand, the trial could get back on track for late spring. If they decide to consider the issue, the big question is how fast they decide to do so – an expedited schedule could allow enough time for the trial to take place, but if they take their time it would all but kill the trial’s chances.

And in Florida, where Trump is facing criminal charges for mishandling national security documents, Judge Aileen Cannon has scheduled a conference on 1 March to determine whether Trump’s defense motions will push back her originally scheduled 20 May trial start date. (It seems likely it will.)

Will this matter?

Guardian US opinion columnist Sidney Blumenthal points out that Trump has run his business empire aground in spite of a huge head start: “The hundreds of millions that Fred Trump bestowed on his son could not prevent him from steering the family legacy on to the rocks.”

Meanwhile, Guardian US reporter Sam Levine wonders whether Willis can regain control of the Georgia election interference case after the intense scrutiny of her personal life – even if she’s allowed to stay on. “In the court of public opinion, Trump’s defense lawyers may have already won,” he writes. “Like it or not, Willis has moved to the center of the case. It’s unclear whether she’ll be able to successfully leave the witness box and return to the prosecutor’s table.”

And Guardian US reporter George Chidi dives into Willis’ court appearances, arguing that the audience she most cares about (besides the judge deciding the case’s fate) are the Atlanta voters who will decide whether to re-elect her this November. “By showing her grief and rage, she humanizes herself before this audience,” he writes, “which is likely to be sympathetic to the horrors of a Black professional’s love life aired like a reality television show before the American public as a Trump defendant’s legal ploy.”

Cronies & casualties

A federal judge threatened to hold former Trump aide Peter Navarro in contempt for refusing to obey her order to return presidential records in his possession to the national archives, and gave him until 21 March to supply them. Navarro is having a rough month: he was already sentenced to four months in prison in a separate case for refusing a subpoena to appear in front of the House January 6 committee, and is expected to begin serving that time in the coming weeks after a judge denied his appeal.

The US supreme court rejected appeals from seven Trump 2020 campaign attorneys, including Sidney Powell, to pay legal fees and face other sanctions for filing a lawsuit filled with false claims about that election.

What’s next?

Thursday The deadline for Trump’s team to file pretrial motions in his Florida classified documents case. Trump’s team has telegraphed that it will file a number of suppressive motions that seek to delay the case.

Any day now The US supreme court could decide at any time whether or not they’ll take up the lower court ruling that denied Trump’s claim of presidential immunity in his Washington DC criminal trial.

As early as next week The supreme court is expected to rule soon on whether the 14th amendment’s insurrection clause allows Colorado to remove Trump from its presidential ballot. During the court’s oral arguments two weeks ago, the justices indicated they’re highly unlikely to allow this to happen.

1 March Scheduling conference in the Florida documents case to determine whether the 20 May trial date that Cannon previously scheduled will stick.

17 March Deadline for Trump to appeal the civil fraud verdict.

25 March New York hush money trial set to start.

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