The probes threaten Trump with criminal or financial penalties, as well as plain old public embarrassment, as he remains a dominant presence in his party and has launched a 2024 bid to return to the White House. Here’s a list of the key investigations and where they stand.
The Mar-a-Lago documents investigation
What is it: The FBI executed a search of Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 8, part of a criminal probe into possible mishandling of classified information, as well as possible hiding, tampering or destruction of government records. Three months earlier, the Justice Department had sent a subpoena to Trump’s legal team seeking any items with classified markings in the former president’s possession. In the court-approved search, agents found more than 100 classified documents that had not been returned in response to the subpoena. Some of them contained extremely sensitive information, including about Iran’s missile program, China and a foreign country’s nuclear capabilities.
The House Oversight Committee is also looking into the matter.
What’s at stake: Mishandling classified information is a federal crime that could lead to prison time. So is hiding, tampering or destroying government records. To substantiate a criminal case, prosecutors would have to prove that Trump or his aides intentionally mishandled the material or were grossly negligent in doing so — a high legal bar, particularly since the president is the ultimate decision-maker on what information should be declassified. In practice, the department reserves criminal charges for those who deliberately mishandle such files. The FBI may also want to assess how widely the classified information may have been disseminated.
The investigation also could have political consequences. Just ask Hillary Clinton, famously investigated for possibly mishandling classified information because of her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. That case ended with damaging revelations — but no charges — just before she lost the 2016 presidential election.
What’s next: A grand jury is hearing witness testimony as prosecutors weigh their next steps.
In November, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith to oversee both the Mar-a-Lago investigation and aspects of the sprawling Jan. 6 probe that are related to Trump and his inner circle (more on that below). Garland said the fact that Trump is running for president again, and that President Biden has said he plans to seek reelection, merited the appointment of an independent prosecutor to oversee both probes.
Justice Department criminal probe of Jan. 6
What is it: The Justice Department is investigating the Jan. 6 riot and has charged hundreds of people who breached the Capitol that day with trespassing, trying to obstruct the vote certification and attacking police officers. Prosecutors charged some key leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers with conspiring to use violence to try to block the election of Democrat Joe Biden, and have expanded their examination to probe the preparations for the rally that preceded the riot, as well as the decision by Republican electors in some states won by Biden to send signed statements purporting to affirm Trump as the victor. Early in 2022, the investigation expanded again, to probe Trump’s actions and statements, with prosecutors seeking a broad range of phone records, emails and grand jury testimony from former Trump administration aides and members of his inner circle. Prosecutors are eyeing whether Trump or his aides may have engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct the Jan. 6 certification of the election or potential fraud to block the peaceful transfer of power. In December, at least two former Trump campaign officials received subpoenas demanding information and documents on legal representation for Trump aides, voting machines, fundraising around false election claims and more.
What’s at stake: The big question for most observers is: Could Trump face charges? The answer remains unclear. Garland has vowed to hold accountable those responsible for the riot and for “any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another,” and to investigate people “at any level.”
No former president has been charged with a crime in U.S. history. In cases when investigators found evidence suggesting a president engaged in criminal conduct, as with Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton, authorities ultimately decided not to pursue such cases — in part to avoid appearing to use government power to punish political enemies and assure the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.
What’s next: Expect more grand jury appearances and more subpoenas, and watch for whether anyone close to the former president will cooperate with federal authorities.
Georgia election results investigation
What is it: Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D), an elected prosecutor in the Atlanta area, is investigating efforts to overturn Trump’s loss in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to “find” enough votes to reverse Biden’s victory. He also called the top Georgia state elections investigator and urged her to identify wrongdoing in the state’s vote, and contacted Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and state Attorney General Chris Carr (R). Prosecutors are scrutinizing Trump’s calls, as well as testimony Trump allies gave to Georgia state lawmakers in December 2020, and the scheme to certify a slate of fake electors from the state to contest the election results.
Where it stands: A special-purpose grand jury that convened as part of the investigation concluded its work in early January and submitted a report. The judge presiding over the case will decide on Jan. 24 whether the report will be made public and if any parts will be redacted. Authorities privy to the report will decide whether to bring criminal charges. In September, Willis told The Washington Post that the allegations are “very serious,” and that if people are indicted and convicted, they could get prison time.
What’s at stake: Willis is investigating possible violations of Georgia state law, including whether anyone illegally solicited election fraud, attempted to “interfere with, hinder, or delay” election administrators’ work, or participated in a criminal conspiracy, legal experts say. But the district attorney is in some uncharted territory, experts said, because these statutes have not been widely used to prosecute election-law cases.
What’s next: At least 17 people have been notified they are targets of the criminal investigation, meaning they could eventually face charges, and more targets are expected, Willis has said.
The Jan. 6 select committee’s investigation
What is it: A House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and the events leading up to it held high-profile, televised hearings this summer and fall featuring multiple witnesses — many of them Republicans who are or were close to Trump. While the hearings do not meet the standards of a criminal probe, they offered the fullest public account yet of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results and his alleged role in provoking the carnage at the Capitol.
Where it stands: The committee issued a report on its findings in late December, and recommended to the Justice Department that Trump — and possibly some of his associates — face criminal prosecution. That recommendation is not binding. Lawmakers and committee staff interviewed hundreds of witnesses and examined many text messages and other documents, then presented the information they gathered in carefully produced, nationally televised hearings this past summer. In December and early January, thousands of pages of interview transcripts and text and email messages were publicly released.
The Justice Department charged two former Trump aides with contempt of Congress for bucking the panel’s subpoenas; Stephen K. Bannon was convicted in late July, and former White House trade adviser Peter K. Navarro is awaiting trial.
What’s at stake: The committee can’t charge Trump or his advisers with a crime. Its criminal referrals it issues are largely symbolic; those decisions are up to the Justice Department. But the committee’s work has significantly increased public awareness of Jan. 6, 2021, and the events that preceded it, creating pressure in some circles for Garland and Smith, the special counsel, to move forward.
Trump business practices, criminal and civil probes in New York
What is it: The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the New York Attorney General’s Office have been investigating Trump’s business practices, particularly allegations that he misrepresented the value of his assets to lenders and tax authorities to secure loans and get breaks on his taxes.
Where it stands: The criminal probe, started in 2019 under then-District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and continued under his successor, Alvin Bragg (D), resulted in indictments on tax fraud-related charges for the Trump Organization and longtime senior executive Allen Weisselberg. It appeared to lose momentum this spring, after two leading prosecutors resigned, with one expressing frustration that Bragg had not signed off on an indictment of Trump or his family. Bragg is still considering whether to charge Trump with other potential crimes stemming from a probe that started under his predecessor Cyrus R. Vance Jr. in 2019.
In mid-August, Weisselberg pleaded guilty to more than a dozen felonies, including criminal tax fraud and grand larceny. He and another top Trump Organization executive then testified about that fraud this fall, when the Trump Organization itself stood trial. In December, the company was convicted of multiple tax- and fraud-related criminal charges. Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in jail and five years on probation; the Trump Organization was fined $1.6 million.
In a separate civil proceeding, Attorney General Letitia James (D) filed a lawsuit Sept. 21 against Trump, three of his children and the Trump Organization, accusing them of flagrantly manipulating the valuations of their properties to get better terms on loans and insurance policies, and to get tax breaks. The suit seeks to recover more than $250 million in what James’s office says are ill-gotten gains. It also asks the New York Supreme Court to bar Trump, as well as Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump, from serving as executives at any company in New York, and to bar the Trump Organization from acquiring any commercial real estate or receiving loans from any New York-registered financial institution for five years.
What’s next: Trump, his children and his lawyers have dismissed the inquiry and James’s lawsuit as a politically motivated attack on them and have denied wrongdoing. The litigation probably will stretch on for some time.
Westchester, N.Y., golf club
What is it: Westchester District Attorney Miriam “Mimi” Rocah (D) is investigating property tax records related to one of Trump’s golf clubs in suburban New York.
Where it stands: The status of Rocah’s investigation is murkier than some of the others. In October, 2021, it was reported that her office had subpoenaed property tax records from the town of Ossining, N.Y., which sets property tax rates for the course. The Trump Organization had challenged the property valuation for the club for every year since 2015; that process often involves a company turning over data about a property’s financial performance as evidence that it is worth less than its assessed value.
What’s at stake: Rocah’s probe appears to be similar to Bragg’s in that it is focused on the valuation of a Trump property.
What’s next: A spokeswoman for Rocah has declined to comment on the matter, and it’s unclear what steps investigators have taken or what they might do next.