The status of key investigations involving Donald Trump

In New York, Fulton County, Ga., and D.C., the former president is the focus of criminal investigations

Former president Donald Trump speaks at a 2021 rally in Wellington, Ohio. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Donald Trump is facing historic legal and legislative scrutiny for a former president, being under investigation by the Justice Department, district attorneys in Manhattan and Fulton County, Ga., and a state attorney general even as he pursues a 2024 bid to return to the White House.

The Justice Department is investigating the handling of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago and efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, with a special counsel appointed in November to oversee both investigations. The House Jan. 6 committee has finished its probe of the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and the events leading up to that day, and has made criminal referrals to Attorney General Merrick Garland. The Fulton County district attorney is leading a parallel criminal probe related to the 2020 election, and authorities in New York have been investigating Trump, his advisers and his family business for a medley of possible wrongdoing, including how he valued his various assets for loan and tax purposes. In early March, the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) offered Trump the opportunity to be questioned before the grand jury hearing evidence in his case, a sign that the probe is nearing its end and that charges could be levied against the former president.

Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. Here is a list of the key investigations and where they stand.

The Mar-a-Lago documents investigation

What it is: The FBI searched Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 8 as part of a criminal probe into possible mishandling of classified information, as well as possible hiding, tampering with 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, FBI 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 also is looking into the matter.

What is at stake: Mishandling classified information is a federal crime that could lead to prison time. So is hiding, tampering with 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 also may want to assess how widely the classified information may have been disseminated.

Past prosecutions involving classified information shows legal risk Trump is facing

The investigation also could have political consequences. Just ask Hillary Clinton, who was 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 the 2016 presidential election, which she lost to Trump.

What is 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 it is: 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 groups with conspiring to use violence to try to block the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory, 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 considering whether Trump or his aides may have engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct the Jan. 6 certification of the election result 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 is 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 to ensure the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.

What is next: Expect more grand jury appearances and more subpoenas, and watch for whether anyone close to the former president cooperates with federal authorities.

The Jan. 6 insurrection: Read the latest from The Washington Post

Georgia election results investigation

What it is: Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D), an elected prosecutor in the Atlanta area, is investigating efforts to overturn Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. 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 that he 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.

What you need to know about the Fulton County, Ga., investigation into Trump and his allies

Where it stands: A Georgia judge on Feb. 15 released parts of a report produced by a special-purpose grand jury convened as part of the investigation, although the panel’s recommendations on potential charges in that investigation remain secret. The five-page excerpt revealed that a majority of the grand jury concluded that some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony before the panel and recommended that charges be filed. Those witnesses were not identified in the unsealed excerpt of the grand jury’s report.

What is 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 is next: Authorities who are privy to the full grand jury report will decide whether to bring criminal charges. In September, Willis told The Washington Post that the allegations about efforts to overturn the election results are “very serious” and that if people are indicted and convicted, they could get prison time. At least 17 people have been notified that they are targets of the criminal investigation.

Manhattan district attorney’s investigation

What it is: District Attorney Bragg’s office convened a grand jury to evaluate business-related matters involving Trump, including his role in making hush-money payments to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign, people with knowledge of the investigation have said. The payments were classified as a legal expense and could be considered a campaign expense, exposing Trump to potential low-level felony charges.

Where it stands: Trump has been offered a chance to appear before the grand jury. In New York state, the target of a criminal investigation that has not yet resulted in an arrest can request this type of notification, if the person knows independently that proceedings are underway. The requirement is designed to give the target a chance to be heard by the panel in his or her own defense. Defense attorneys generally consider it risky for a client to testify in that scenario.

What is next: Trump must decide whether to appear, and Bragg must finish seeking testimony from other witnesses and decide whether to seek charges. Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., had considered pursuing charges against Trump related to Daniels. But his office ruled that out as a viable option and moved on to other matters, including the Trump Organization’s tax practices and asset valuations.

Lawsuit over Trump business practices in New York

What it is: 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 of 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 of 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.

Where it stands: 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.

Related matters: A parallel criminal probe of Trump’s business practices, started in 2019 under then-District Attorney Vance and continued under his successor, Bragg, resulted in indictments on tax fraud-related charges for the Trump Organization and longtime senior executive Allen Weisselberg.

Weisselberg pleaded guilty to more than a dozen felonies, including criminal tax fraud and grand larceny. He and another top Trump Organization executive testified about that fraud 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.