Here’s why the Mueller report doesn’t spell the end of Donald Trump’s legal woes
The closure of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election does not mark the end of legal worries for U.S. President Donald Trump and people close to him. Other continuing investigations and litigation are focusing on issues including his businesses and financial dealings, personal conduct, charitable foundation and inaugural committee.
The special counsel on Friday submitted his confidential report on the investigation to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who must decide on how much of it to make public. On Sunday, Barr released a summary of Mueller’s findings that said the investigation did not find Trump had committed a crime but that the report also did not exonerate him.
The summary also said Mueller found no evidence that any member of Trump‘s election campaign conspired with Russia during the election.
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While Mueller’s probe has ended, the other investigations, pursued by prosecutors at the federal and state level, could result in charges beyond those brought by Mueller or civil liability.
The U.S. Justice Department has a decades-old policy that a sitting president cannot face criminal charges so such a case against Trump would be unlikely while he is in office even if there were evidence of wrongdoing. Some legal experts have argued the department is wrong and that a president is not immune from prosecution. Either way, Trump potentially could face charges once he is out of office.
Here is an explanation of some criminal investigations and civil lawsuits still underway.
Mueller’s criminal cases
Mueller charged 34 individuals and three companies. Several of those cases resulted in guilty pleas and one case went to trial, with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort convicted in August 2018 of eight criminal counts, including bank fraud and tax fraud. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was indicted in January of this year and pleaded not guilty, but his trial is still pending. There are other cases involving indicted Russians that have not gone to trial. Other prosecutors within the Justice Department will likely take over criminal cases begun by Mueller, legal experts said.
READ MORE: Key players indicted in the Russia probe
Business practices and financial dealings
Trump may face significant peril from federal prosecutors in Manhattan, according to legal experts. His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said in Feb. 27 congressional testimony that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is examining Trump‘s business practices and financial dealings. Cohen already has implicated Trump in campaign finance law violations to which he pleaded guilty in August 2018 as part of the Southern District investigation.
Cohen admitted he violated campaign finance laws by arranging, at Trump‘s direction, “hush money” payments shortly before the 2016 presidential election to porn film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal to prevent damage to Trump‘s candidacy. Both women said they had sexual relationships with Trump more than a decade ago. He has denied that.
Prosecutors said the payments constituted illegal campaign contributions intended to influence the election. Under federal election laws, such donations cannot exceed $2,700 and need to be publicly disclosed. Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, received $130,000. McDougal received $150,000.
The New York investigation has involved longtime Trump ally David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper, who admitted to paying McDougal for the rights to her story and then suppressing it to influence the election, an arrangement called “catch and kill.”
During his Feb. 27 congressional hearing, Cohen said he was in “constant contact” with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, and said other crimes and wrongdoing by Trump are being investigated by them, though he did not offer details. Cohen said he could not testify about the nature of his last conversation with Trump in early 2018 because it was under investigation by the federal prosecutors in New York.
New York State charges against Manafort
The Manhattan district attorney’s office is exploring criminal charges against Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump‘s former campaign chairman, over financial crimes related to unpaid state taxes and possibly loans. In cases bought by Mueller, Manafort in 2018 was convicted of tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts in Virginia and pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges in Washington. He was sentenced to a combined seven and a half years in prison in the two cases. Trump has not ruled out granting Manafort a pardon. The president would not be able to pardon Manafort if he is convicted of charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney because they would not be federal crimes. However, New York has broad double-jeopardy protections that usually prevent the state from prosecuting a person for crimes arising from the same criminal conduct the federal government has prosecuted before.
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Summer Zervos defamation lawsuit
A defamation lawsuit against Trump by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on his reality television show “The Apprentice,” continues in New York state court after a judge in 2018 allowed it to proceed. Zervos sued Trump after he called her and other women who have accused him of sexual misconduct liars and retweeted a post labelling her claims a hoax.
Trump has agreed to provide written answers to questions from Zervos by Sept. 28, according to a court filing.
Zervos accused Trump of kissing her against her will at his New York office in 2007 and later groping her at a meeting at a hotel in California. More than a dozen women have accused Trump of making unwanted sexual advances against them years before he entered politics. Marc Kasowitz, a lawyer for Trump, had argued that the lawsuit unconstitutionally impedes the president from performing his duties. An appeals court rejected that argument on March 14 by a 3-2 vote. Kasowitz said he would appeal the decision to the state’s highest court.
Separately, two lawsuits against Trump brought by porn star Stormy Daniels were dismissed.
The Trump Foundation
A lawsuit filed by the New York state Attorney General’s Office has already led the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was presented as the charitable arm ofTrump‘s business empire, to agree in December 2018 to dissolve, and the litigation continues.
The state is seeking an order banning Trump and his three eldest children from leadership roles in any other New York charity. Trump has said the lawsuit was concocted by “sleazy New York Democrats.” The state’s Democratic attorney general accused the foundation of being “engaged in a “shocking pattern of illegality” and “functioning as little more than a chequebook to serve Mr. Trump‘s business and political interests” in violation of federal law.
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The attorney general’s office alleged Trump and his family members used the charity to pay off his legal debts and purchase personal items. The foundation agreed to dissolve and give away all its remaining assets under court supervision.
Trump is accused in a lawsuit filed by the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia of violating anti-corruption provisions of the U.S. Constitution through his businesses’ dealings with foreign governments.
The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on March 19 in the Trump administration’s appeal of U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte’s 2018 rulings allowing the case to proceed.
The Constitution’s “emoluments clause” bars U.S. officials from accepting payments from foreign governments and the governments of U.S. states without congressional approval. The lawsuit stated that because Trump did not divest himself of his business empire, spending by foreign governments at the TrumpInternational Hotel in Washington amounts to unconstitutional gifts, or “emoluments,” to the president.
The three appeals court judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, expressed approval toward Trump‘s arguments in the case and signaled they might dismiss it, but did not issue a ruling.
Some experts have said the case will eventually be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump inaugural committee
Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating whether the committee that organized Trump‘s inauguration in January 2017 accepted illegal donations from foreigners, misused funds or brokered special access to the administration for donors.
Federal election law prohibits foreigners from donating to U.S. political campaigns or inaugural committees, and corruption laws ban donors from making contributions in exchange for political favours.
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Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in December 2018 that the president was not involved in his inaugural committee. The $107 million raised by the committee, which was chaired by real estate developer and investor Thomas Barrack, was the largest in history, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Under the Constitution, the president, vice president and “all civil officers of the United States” can be removed from office by Congress through the impeachment process for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.” The House of Representatives acts as the accuser – voting on whether to bring specific charges such as obstruction of justice — and the Senate then conducts a trial with House members acting as prosecutors and the individual senators serving as jurors. A simple majority vote is needed in the House to impeach. A two-thirds majority is required in the Senate to convict and remove.
© 2019 Reuters