Trump’s list of legal headaches just keeps growing

Former US President Donald Trump speaks at the Turning Point Action conference as he continues his 2024 presidential campaign on July 15, 2023 in West Palm Beach, Florida. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With a third potential indictment against him, the walls continue to close in on Trump.

When it comes to his legal issues, this week has brought nothing but bad news for former President Donald Trump.

A federal judge rejected Trump’s bid Wednesday to move the case against him in New York to federal court. That case, over the first of his two indictments, concerns hush money payments made to the porn actor Stormy Daniels during his 2016 campaign.

Trump also said Tuesday that special counsel Jack Smith notified him that he is a target of the Department of Justice’s criminal investigation into the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. Receiving that letter suggests that Trump’s second federal indictment and third overall could be forthcoming.

A judge in a separate case about Trump’s alleged retention of classified documents after he left office considered a trial date during a Tuesday hearing. Federal prosecutors have pushed for a winter 2023 date, while Trump hopes to delay the trial until after the 2024 election.

And on Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected his bid to essentially throw out a case over his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election in the state.

Though Trump’s allies have attempted to dismiss the former president’s legal troubles as evidence of a political conspiracy against him, his legal problems are piling up. One federal indictment would be a serious matter for the former president. Two — coupled with at least one, and possibly two, state indictments — as well as a slew of civil litigation could be disastrous.

So far, Trump has simply brushed off his legal entanglements, and they appear to be helping him in the 2024 polls. He expanded his polling lead after both his indictment in New York and his federal indictment in the classified documents case. He remains the frontrunner in the GOP primary, polling more than 30 percentage points on average ahead of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But even in the best-case scenario for the former president, the cases will take away valuable time and money he could be spending on his campaign while giving his rivals ample material to attack him as unfit for another term.

And while Trump’s legal troubles may not sway Republican voters, it remains to be seen whether it will cause moderates and independents to turn away from the former president. Trump has already lost once to President Joe Biden, but in head-to-head matchups over the last month, some polls have him winning by as much as 7 percentage points, while others have him losing by as much as 6 percentage points. Those numbers could change, however, as the cases against Trump continue to develop.

The hush money case

Trump sought to move the hush money case from Manhattan to federal court because he argued it concerned actions he took while president. But a federal court ruled Wednesday that he had failed to prove that his conduct related in any way to the presidency and instead appeared to be “a cover-up of an embarrassing event.”

Trump had also asserted that the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg could not invoke potential violations of federal election law to charge him with a felony offense in state court. The judge found Trump’s argument did not have merit.

The ruling marks a significant victory for Bragg in a case of which some legal analysts have been skeptical.

The January 6 investigation

Trump posted Tuesday on TruthSocial that he had received what’s known as a target letter from Smith on Sunday stating that he was a subject of the January 6 grand jury investigation, giving him four days to report to the grand jury. He called it a “WITCH HUNT” and “POLITICAL WEAPONIZATION OF LAW ENFORCEMENT” in the post.

Target letters typically invite their recipient to testify before a grand jury and can give a rough overview of potential charges. Trump, like most target letter recipients, isn’t expected to take up the DOJ on its invitation.

The same happened just before Trump was indicted in the classified documents case, and Trump admitted in his Tuesday post that such a letter “almost always indicates an arrest and indictment.” It would mark the third time that Trump has been indicted and the second federal indictment against him.

Trump did not release the text of the letter, and it’s not immediately clear what the charges could be. But Smith’s inquiry follows a comprehensive House committee investigation last year that concluded Trump incited the insurrection and conspired to defraud the US government, referring him and other associates to the DOJ for prosecution. If charged and convicted on that basis, Trump could face up to 35 years in prison and more than $500,000 in fines.

The classified documents probe

Separately, Trump has sought to delay the federal trial in the classified documents case, in which he was indicted on 37 counts, including willful retention of national defense information under the Espionage Act and one count of false statements and representations. On Tuesday, the judge in the case ordered the parties to present their arguments for and against a speedy trial.

Smith has indicated that he wants the trial to happen in mid-December. Trump, on the other hand, does not want to set a trial date yet and wants to push it perhaps even later than the 2024 election to accommodate his campaign calendar. However, the fact that the judge is hearing arguments on the issue Tuesday would suggest the court may set a date soon.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that the timeline laid out by the DOJ is “unrealistic.” But the DOJ has said it’s Trump who’s being unreasonable: “There is no basis in law or fact for proceeding in such an indeterminate and open-ended fashion, and the Defendants provide none,” prosecutors wrote in a filing last week. “The demands of Defendants’ professional schedules do not provide a basis to delay trial in this case.”

The case over interference in the 2020 election in Georgia

Finally, Trump received an important update in the election interference case Georgia prosecutors are building against him.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday that it would not block swaths of evidence collected in an ongoing investigation by the Fulton County district attorney and prevent prosecutors from using it in any future criminal or civil case, as Trump had requested.

In a unanimous opinion, the court said Trump didn’t follow the proper procedure in bringing the case before its justices, and that ruling in Trump’s favor would have required “extraordinary circumstances” that he failed to demonstrate.

“[Trump] has not shown that this case presents one of those extremely rare circumstances in which this Court’s original jurisdiction should be invoked, and therefore, the petition is dismissed,” the ruling said.

It’s now a question of whether District Attorney Fani Willis will bring charges against Trump in the case. Documents from the DA’s office suggest that if an indictment were to come, it would be delivered sometime between July 31 and mid-August. Her case is believed to rely in part on a special grand jury report investigating Trump and his associates’ efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.

From the outset of the investigation, Willis zeroed in on a phone call in which Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the votes necessary for him to beat Biden in the state. CNN reported that prosecutors are considering racketeering charges, which carry fines and a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Prosecutors are also reportedly weighing conspiracy charges, which carry a maximum sentence of five years and up to a $250,000 fine.

Update, July 19, 4:45 pm ET: This story was originally published on July 18 and has been updated to include news of the federal court ruling in the hush money case.

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