A flurry of decisions by the Supreme Court and federal and state investigators has forced Donald Trump and his adult children to defend their conduct on multiple fronts, potentially jeopardizing their futures — or perhaps yet again allowing the former president to escape unscathed.
Then, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s request to block the release of some of his White House records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Thursday brought a double whammy: The House committee sent a letter to Ivanka Trump requesting her voluntary testimony. In the letter, the panel said witnesses have told investigators that the former White House adviser might have direct knowledge of her father’s actions before, during and after the mob of his supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as president.
And in Atlanta, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) requested a special-purpose grand jury to aid in her investigation into whether Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia election officials to overturn his loss in the 2020 election.
Taken together, the events seem to spell bad news for Trump. But some who have observed him for decades are urging caution. After all, Trump survived two House impeachments — avoiding conviction by the Senate — as well as the investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and several congressional probes of his administration.
“Every time there is an investigation of Trump, the media becomes invested in [it] being a possible death knell,” said Timothy L. O’Brien, a Trump biographer and longtime critic of the former president. “Donald Trump has nine lives not because he’s a master dodger, but because it’s hard to prove fraud. It’s worth stepping back and looking at the realities of the legal proceedings and at the bars the prosecutors have to overcome to make a case.”
Multiple advisers said Thursday that Trump was particularly interested in the New York probes and is regularly briefed by lawyers on the matter. James’s office is likely to bring civil charges in upcoming months, and criminal ones are still possible, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday about the cascading legal issues.
Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump all became executives at their father’s company early in their careers, working out of three adjacent offices in Trump Tower until Ivanka left to join the White House. Their involvement in nearly every aspect of the business has come under increasing scrutiny by New York investigators who are examining whether the company may have violated tax, banking or insurance laws.
The criminal inquiry by James and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is investigating whether Trump’s company broke the law by claiming wildly different valuations for properties to business partners and tax authorities. Experts say such cases are traditionally very difficult for prosecutors to prove.
James’s civil case is focused on similar allegations and may be easier to prove. In that case, James has already deposed Eric Trump and is pushing to depose Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, as well. In her filing Tuesday, James took direct aim at the siblings’ roles in what she alleges was a scheme to pass misleading information to banks, insurers and tax authorities to save the company millions of dollars in costs and taxes.
Eric Trump, in his deposition, invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 500 times. Court filings show he was closely involved in pursuing tax easements for Trump’s Seven Springs estate and his Westchester golf club, both outside New York City.
In pushing to depose Ivanka Trump, James’s office alleged in the filing that the former president’s daughter “caused misleading financial statements to be submitted to Deutsche Bank and the federal government” as part of the family’s winning bid to lease the federally owned Old Post Office Pavilion in downtown Washington, where the company developed its D.C. hotel. The lease is for sale and could net the company more than $100 million in profits.
James made similar allegations about Ivanka Trump’s role in financing Trump’s Chicago hotel and Doral golf resort near Miami. James also claimed that Ivanka received options to purchase condos in the Trump Park Avenue building in Manhattan at well below market value.
James presented less evidence about Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday but alleged that, as a trustee overseeing his father’s assets since 2017, the son “has had authority over numerous financial statements containing misleading asset valuations.”
“Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump have all been closely involved in the transactions in question, so we won’t tolerate their attempts to evade testifying in this investigation,” James said in a statement released Tuesday.
The former president and his children have dismissed the investigations as politically motivated, portraying James as a partisan who is using the judicial system to unfairly attack Trump and his family.
“The only one misleading the public is Letitia James. She defrauded New Yorkers by basing her entire candidacy on a promise to get Trump at all costs without having seen a shred of evidence and in violation of every conceivable ethical rule,” the Trump Organization said in a statement.
Attorneys for Ivanka and Donald Jr. have moved to quash the subpoenas, arguing in court that James was attempting to use her civil investigation to circumvent the grand jury process in the criminal case. “By attempting to play both sides, Ms. James is in a position to cherry pick her investigatory methods — civil or criminal — in a calculated manner to, for example, leverage a Fifth Amendment assertion and obtain an adverse inference,” attorneys wrote.
O’Brien noted that although James’s filings include “lots of salacious stuff” about the way the Trump family has handled its finances for decades, “bad behavior doesn’t amount to fraud.”
“It hinges on whether she can prove Trump or the children knew they were doing something wrong and did so anyway,” he said. “Behaving badly is not a crime.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s team was not surprised by the news that the Jan. 6 committee had requested Ivanka Trump’s testimony as it investigates the events surrounding the Capitol insurrection, two advisers said.
“It was inevitable, as she was a fact witness on that day,” said one person in the former president’s political orbit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly. “If they’re trying to get to the bottom of what happened that afternoon, how could they not call her?”
A person with knowledge of the information already turned over to the committee said it is not causing concern in Trump’s circle, because it includes mainly draft tweets, schedules and other documents that are not viewed as politically sensitive or damaging.
Trump’s legal team was frustrated at Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling, according to three people with knowledge of the matter, and may file additional cases about privilege precedent because they believe the court did not rule on the merits of all the documents.
On Friday, the National Archives said the documents Trump had tried to keep from the committee were turned over to the panel.
Among the more than 700 pages of documents was a draft executive order, dated Dec. 16, 2020, that would have directed the defense secretary to seize voting machines. The author of the document is unclear, and there is no early indication whether it was taken seriously.
Politico first reported on its existence Friday, and The Washington Post confirmed that the panel has reviewed the document, according to a person familiar with the committee’s work who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Trump has retained several disparate teams of lawyers to handle the individual matters, with more than a dozen involved. Some of the bills are being paid by the Republican Party.
In the Georgia case, Willis told the chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court on Thursday that a special-purpose grand jury was needed because a “significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate with the investigation, absent a subpoena requiring their testimony.”
Willis cited Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) as an example. Willis has previously confirmed that part of her probe centers on the Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Raffensperger in which Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s win in the state.
Willis launched the criminal probe in February. Trump responded Thursday, saying in a statement that “I didn’t say anything wrong in the call” and repeating his false claims of widespread voter fraud.
“What this Civil Special grand jury should be looking into is not my perfect phone call, but the large scale voter fraud that took place in Georgia,” he said. “Then they would be doing a great job for the people.”
Trump remains the party’s top draw and possible presidential nominee in 2024. He is expected to travel to New Orleans in March and headline the Republican National Committee’s donor retreat, according to an invitation obtained by The Post.
John Wagner and Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.