The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump faces an onslaught of legal problems, as investigations and dozens of lawsuits trail him from Washington to Florida

Former president Donald Trump speaks during the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 28 in Orlando. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The district attorney is sifting through millions of pages of his tax records. The state attorney general has subpoenaed his lawyers, his bankers, his chief financial officer — even one of his sons.

And that’s just in New York. Former president Donald Trump is also facing criminal investigations in Georgia and the District of Columbia related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And Trump must defend himself against a growing raft of lawsuits: 29 are pending at last count, including some seeking damages from Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, when he encouraged a march to the Capitol that ended in a mob storming the building.

No charges have been filed against Trump in any of these investigations. The outcome of these lawsuits is uncertain. Trump has raised more than $31 million for his post-presidential political action committee, which he could tap to pay legal fees.

The Post’s Rosalind Helderman explains the lawsuits against former president Donald Trump and his allies for trying to change election results. (Video: Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post, Photo: Photo: AP/The Washington Post)

But the sheer volume of these legal problems indicates that — after a moment of maximum invincibility in the White House — Trump has fallen to a point of historic vulnerability before the law.

He has lost the formal immunities of the presidency and the legal firepower of the Justice Department, but he is also without some of the informal shields that protected him even before he was president: his reputation for endless wealth and his clout as a political donor in New York.

Now, prosecutors roam free in his financial records. New lawsuits keep arriving. Some of his key lawyers have quit. A man who once used the law to swamp his enemies, overwhelming them with claims and legal bills, is finding himself on the other side of the wave, unable to control what comes next.

Until recently, “at his level, there was no such thing as being in ‘legal trouble,’ in the way that ordinary people think about it,” said Michael D’Antonio, who wrote a 2015 biography of Trump. He said Trump usually had something he could hold over the head of his opponents: withholding donations, bad press or a messy countersuit.

Today, D’Antonio said, in the urban and liberal jurisdictions where Trump is facing the most peril, “nobody needs him now.”

“What does he have to offer anybody? And in fact there’s every incentive to crush him,” D’Antonio said.

In recent U.S. history, the closest parallel is Bill Clinton. In his post-presidency, Clinton faced a four-year Justice Department investigation into pardons he had granted during his last days in office. That investigation ended with no charges, but — along with congressional investigations of the same pardons — it forced Clinton to pay substantial legal fees.

Trump and his company did not respond to questions for this article. His attorneys have largely declined to comment.

Trump is facing the lawsuits and investigations at a time when his company is under unusual stress, caused by both the coronavirus pandemic and backlash against Trump’s polarizing presidency. Several of his hotels and resorts reported sharp downturns in 2020.

At Trump Tower in Manhattan, one major commercial tenant — Tiffany & Co. — is planning to vacate its space. Another, Marc Fisher Footwear, stopped paying rent in November, according to a lawsuit the Trump Organization filed against the footwear company this month. The company owes more than $1.4 million in back payments, according to the suit.

The Trump Organization is a private business, which provides little data about its financial standing. Trump still appears to own the company, but it’s not clear what role he is playing in its day-to-day management. In fact, the lawsuit against Marc Fisher Footwear still lists Eric Trump, his son, as the president of the subsidiary that runs Trump Tower.

The Washington Post identified at least six ongoing investigations that could involve Donald Trump, as well as the 29 lawsuits in which he or one of his companies is named as a defendant.

Of the investigations, the oldest and broadest appear to be two in New York: a criminal probe begun by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) in 2018, and a separate civil inquiry begun by state Attorney General Letitia James (D) in 2019.

Trump has faced official inquiries in New York before: A previous attorney general, Eric Schneiderman (D), sued him for defrauding customers of Trump University, winning a $25 million settlement. In 2018, Schneiderman sued him again, for misusing money entrusted to a charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation. The charity case ended with Trump paying a $2 million penalty.

But if those inquiries each targeted a single aspect of Trump’s life, the current probes take a wide-ranging look at his financial decisions in the years before he ran for president.

The New York attorney general has focused on two properties for which Trump claimed $46 million in tax deductions by using “conservation easements” — giving up some of the value of his land by declaring he would not develop it. The federal tax breaks were based on the value Trump gave up. James’s investigators want to know whether that was exaggerated.

In addition, James’s investigators have asked about Trump’s Chicago hotel, probing whether Trump paid the proper taxes when a lender forgave more than $100 million in debt he owed on the property, according to court filings. And she has asked whether he misled potential lenders for his 40 Wall Street tower and other properties by sending them “Statements of Financial Condition” that exaggerated his assets and underplayed his debts. She has taken depositions from both Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and Eric Trump.

“My office’s investigation remains ongoing, as we continue to follow the facts wherever they may lead,” James said in a statement Tuesday.

Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, has indicated interest in the same issues in New York and Chicago — and requested records from Trump properties as far away as Miami. He also has sought information about Weisselberg, with the goal of “flipping” him into a witness against Trump, according to a person familiar with the investigation. The person, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss legal proceedings.

Now, Vance has a tool no investigator has ever had before: the former president’s tax returns, which also contain voluminous information about his businesses.

Vance obtained them last month after years of litigation. Tax experts say they should allow investigators to see years’ worth of data, on dozens to hundreds of Trump subsidiaries. Vance has obtained the records under grand-jury secrecy rules, which means they cannot be shared with James.

“The level of review is unprecedented in Trump’s corporate history,” said Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer and attorney, who pleaded guilty to federal crimes in 2018 after paying off women who said they’d had affairs with Trump.

Cohen has spoken with Vance’s investigators eight times — most recently on Friday. Searching for a more urgent metaphor, he called Vance’s inquiry “a proctological exam of the highest order.” Cohen has his own pending lawsuit against Trump, alleging that Trump owed him $3 million for legal bills.

Neither Vance nor James has formally accused Trump of wrongdoing. Vance, like James, declined to comment on the specifics of the cases. After the Supreme Court ruling that allowed him access to Trump’s tax returns, Vance tweeted only a brief statement: “The work continues.”

He has said he will retire after this year, meaning that any case he brings against Trump would probably have to be finished by a successor.

In addition to the two New York investigations, Trump faces three probes related to his efforts to overturn his loss to President Biden. Two are in Georgia, where Trump, in a phone call, pressured Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to “find” enough votes to let him win.

In Atlanta, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) announced plans in early February to investigate the Trump call and other “attempts to influence the administration of the 2020 Georgia general election.”

Willis said her investigation was a criminal one and would examine whether Trump violated state laws against “solicitation of election fraud,” conspiracy, racketeering, or making threats related to the election administration.

So far, her investigation is in its earliest stages, according to people familiar with it. Separately, Raffensperger’s office is also investigating Trump’s actions — and, by law, could refer the case to state or federal prosecutors.

In Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) has also opened a criminal investigation into Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, when supporters of the president sacked the Capitol to try to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s win.

A spokesman said Racine was investigating whether Trump violated a D.C. law against “inciting or provoking violence.”

Because of the limits of D.C. law, however, Racine could not charge Trump with a felony — only a misdemeanor. And, because of limits on the District’s extradition powers, Trump, if charged, could be arrested only if he entered the District.

Racine also has sued Trump’s company for allegedly misusing money donated to his 2017 inauguration. In that case, District investigators have already deposed two of his children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — and now also want to depose Weisselberg, the chief financial officer, according to a new filing this week.

The Justice Department, in the meantime, is conducting a broad investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The department declined to answer when asked whether it might investigate Trump’s role in the insurrection as well.

“We are not going to comment on any individual(s), but our ongoing investigation of the events of January 6, which has already resulted in criminally charging over 300 individuals, is being guided at every stage by the facts and the law,” Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said in a statement.

Among the 29 lawsuits Trump is facing, about 18 result from disputes with his properties: slip-and-fall suits, an allegation about bedbugs at Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, a suit alleging that his Chicago hotel sucked out river water without a permit.

These are the kinds of suits Trump might have faced whether or not he was president. But his single term may still hamper his ability to fight them: The law firm Seyfarth Shaw, which represented Trump in some of these disputes, quit in reaction to the events of Jan. 6. His lawyers in the Chicago River suit have also quit, though they declined to say why.

The rest of the suits seem to have been brought on by his presidency: They focus on Trump’s actions or on long-hidden business practices that were revealed while he was under the presidential spotlight.

In Washington, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, filed a suit accusing Trump of conspiring to intimidate and block Congress’s certification of the 2020 election.

Thompson’s case relies on the Ku Klux Klan Act, enacted after the Civil War in 1871 to bar violent interference in Congress’s constitutional duties. It seeks unspecified monetary damages from Trump, Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and two far-right militant groups whose affiliates have been charged in the Capitol assault, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

(Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, has filed a similar suit against Trump and Donald Trump Jr., who also spoke to his father’s supporters before the Capitol riot.)

In another suit, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the NAACP have alleged that Trump violated the Voting Rights Act by pressuring Republican election officials not to certify the results of the 2020 election, particularly in Wayne County, Mich. The plaintiffs say Trump violated a law forbidding the intimidation of voters, those aiding voters and election officials. The county seat, Detroit, is predominantly Black.

Those plaintiffs, too, have not specified the damages they want Trump to pay.

Trump’s attorney in both of those cases, Alexandria-based Jesse Binnall, issued a statement saying that Trump’s actions were protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.

“The government and courts don’t get to go and punish people for engaging in political discourse,” Binnall said. He said that Trump’s position as president did not limit his right to free speech: “The core First Amendment protections are available for him, just the same as for you and me.”

Trump is also fighting defamation lawsuits in New York from two women, E. Jean Carroll and Summer Zervos, who allege Trump sexually assaulted them. Both filed their suits while Trump was president, but they say the assaults took place years earlier.

One of the most unusual legal sagas involving Trump has to do with a group of former and current tenants in Trump buildings, who allege that Trump and his late father illegally raised their rents by using phony invoices to inflate their maintenance costs. Their case is based on a scheme revealed in 2018 by the New York Times.

In that case, plaintiff’s attorney Jerrold Parker said, they got stuck at the first step: To sue Trump, first they had to serve him.

When Trump was still in office, they tried to serve the lawsuit papers to him at the White House. The Secret Service didn’t want to take them. But process servers used a trick perfected on New York doormen: hand over the papers and flee.

“Our process server said, ‘Here it is. I’m out of here. Goodbye!’ ” Parker said.

So far, the former president has not responded. Parker said that doesn’t matter.

“He’s sued,” Parker said, whether Trump accepts it or not.

Alice Crites, Jonathan O’Connell, Tom Hamburger, Ann Marimow and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.