In the last few months we’ve been reading about criminal indictments against former President Trump. It can be hard to keep up (unless you’re a news nerd like me). I thought this might be a good time to see if I can boil it all down and make things sensible to the average person. Let me know how I did. By the way I didn’t categorize this under the 2024 election chronicles because it has almost nothing to do with any of the other candidates.
Background: Donald Trump was elected President in 2016; he lost the popular vote but garnered more electors. This also happened in 2000 when George W. Bush beat Al Gore. Trump ran for re-election in 2020 and lost. He didn’t get enough electoral votes and current President Joe Biden won. Trump declined to acknowledge his defeat, and while he did leave the White House on January 21, 2021 he has claimed all along that the election was stolen from him. In the last few years we’ve witnessed several investigations of illegal activity around this and he’s been criminally charged four times in four different places. Since he is running for President in 2024 it’s gotten a little complicated.
New York On April 4, 2023 in New York Trump plead not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records from the 2016 campaign. Of all the charges this is the least worrisome to Trump. During the 2016 campaign an adult film actress whose stage name is “Stormy Daniels” claimed she had an affair with Trump. Since he was married to Melania then and she had just given birth to their son, Trump feared that news of this might hurt his campaign. At Trump’s direction his personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 on the promise that she would not disclose this to anyone. Cohen paid this out of his own pocket and Trump repaid him. But since the purpose of this payment was to avoid bad publicity for his campaign it was seen as an illegal campaign contribution. Trump attempted to portray the $130,000 as legal fees to his attorney but he and Cohen were unable to provide the paperwork to show what legal services Cohen provided to Trump for the $130,000. They falsified business records to hid the payment. Since the funds were drawn off of Trump’s Capital One checking account in New York, he was indicted in New York As I said, this is the least of Trump’s legal woes. These charges were brought by New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the trial is set for March 25, 2024.
Florida On July 27, 2023 the Southern District of Florida filed a 40 count indictment against former President Trump and others accusing him of illegally taking documents from the White House that belonged to the National Archives. Some of them were classified and were found in unsecured areas. When a President leaves the White House it’s a chaotic time because the White House staff has only a few hours to clean and prepare the White House for the new President and family. It can be difficult to determine what belongs to the President and what belongs to the National Archives. Because of the volume of paperwork involved it’s not hard to imagine that sometimes classified documents get misplaced. When this happened with President Biden his staff caught the mistake and returned the documents. But when Trump left the White House he directed that several boxes, some containing classified and highly sensitive information, be taken to his resort and residence in Mar-a-Lago. Since Mar-a-Lago is a public resort it’s impossible to know who had access to these materials; there was no attempt made to secure them. After Trump left the White House he was contacted by the National Archives because they believed he took boxes of documents that should have been sent to the Archives. In May and June of 2021 the National Archives made specific requests for documents. Trump claimed he didn’t have anything classified and as President he had the power to declassify anything. Over the next year the National Archives attempted several times to have Trump turn over documents; he lied, he instructed his employees to lie and he directed employees to move boxes from Mar-a-Lago, Florida to his golf course in New Jersey. Finally, on August 8, 2022 the FBI executed a search warrant to Mar-a-Lago and seized 102 classified documents. Trump and others were indicted on June 8, 2023. The trial is set for May 20, 2024.
Washington D.C. On August 1, 2023 Trump was indicted on four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. These indictments focus on the events leading to the insurrection to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021 to reverse the 2020 Presidential election and keep Trump in office. The Presidential election was held on November 3, 2020 and four days later Vice President Biden was commonly acknowledged as the winner. Trump insisted that he won the election and promised to reveal widespread fraud and cheating. Since most elections results are clear we have certain formalities that don’t normally get much attention. Each state counts the votes and declares a winner. The winning candidate then appoints electors and on December 14, 2020 electors met and awarded 303 votes to Biden and 235 to Trump. Those votes were then sent to the US Senate who was tasked to count the votes and certify the election on January 7, 2021. Almost from the beginning Trump and his allies began speaking with officials in several states that Biden won, arguing that there was fraud and the states had the right to choose electors themselves, regardless of the popular vote. When Trump learned that the Senate will meet on January 6th (with Vice President Pence in his role as presider of the Senate) to certify the election he began to pressure Pence to refuse to accept the electors and proclaim Trump the winner. Pence refused. He then directed his supporters to come to the Capitol on January 6th with the intention of preventing the Senate from accepting the electors and certify the election for Biden. The trial is set to begin on March 25, 2024.
Georgia This may be the indictment that Trump should fear the most. This also point to Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and there is some overlap from the Washington D.C. indictment. But here Trump was indicted with 18 others. On January 2, 2021 Trump made a conference call to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump insisted he won Georgia’s popular vote and ordered Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes (he lost the state by 11,779 votes). He and his co conspirators targeted Ruby Freeman, an election worker in Fulton County, Georgia. They accused her of election crimes (handling a suitcase of false or stolen ballots); they then harassed and threatened her. Fearing for her life she left her home for a period of time. Additionally, Trump and some of his co conspirators attempted to file “false electors,” that is, electors that would vote for Trump. Their hope was that the US Senate would be given the false set. What makes this indictment different from the others is that this make use of RICO. RICO is an acronym for “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations.” Legislation was written to give prosecutors broad ability go after criminal conspiracies. A conspiracy is when two or more people cooperate to commit a crime; as a funny aside, Rudy Giuliani made great use of this when he was a prosecutor in New York. This will allow one or several of Trump’s co conspirators to “flip” or testify against him for a reduced sentence. Nobody has, but his chances of everyone maintaining their silence are remote. That trial is set for March 4, 2024.
Still with me? This turned out to be much harder to write than I expected. I tried to be accurate and concise but I found that those terms are different points on the same continuum. The trial dates look close to each other and Trump is pushing to have them moved after the 2024 election. I see these dates are more as a starting point than fixed points. To the ability I can I’ll keep writing on this.