Who's actually investigating Donald Trump, and will they nail him? A starter guide for the perplexed news consumer
Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election — which involved pressuring countless officials to do all sorts of dubious things, as well fomenting a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol — has come into greater focus this past week as state and federal officials continue to investigate the former president and his allies on numerous different legal fronts.
But investigations of the ex-president's conduct around the Jan. 6 uprising don't represent all the potential legal trouble Trump faces. At the very least, there are also both civil and criminal investigations in New York into his company's business practices — mostly or entirely unrelated to his presidency — along with a criminal probe in Atlanta that might be the sleeper in this panoply of potential jeopardy
Let's start with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which this week opened a formal probe into the 15 boxes of official documents found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida — which he reportedly took with him, in apparent violation of federal law, after leaving office last January.
Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said this week that she was "deeply concerned" that the documents, now back in the hands of the National Archives and Records Administration, had not been officially turned over by Trump during the transition period. The former president's conduct, she added, "[appears] to have been … in violation of the Presidential Records Act."
The committee's inquiry comes on the same day that Maggie Haberman, the New York Times reporter known for her suspiciously close rapport with the former president, alleged that White House staff repeatedly found "wads of printed paper" clogging Trump's toilet in his own residence.
"I learned that staff in the White House residence would periodically find the toilet clogged," Haberman told CNN on Thursday. "It could be Post-Its, it could be notes he wrote to himself, it could be other things, we don't know," she added. "But it certainly does add … another dimension to what we know about how he handled material in the White House."
Last week, the National Archives acknowledged that some of the documents it had preserved from the Trump administration were literally torn up and taped back together. Numerous officials likewise confirmed with The Washington Post that Trump habitually destroyed official documents himself, often leaving aides to salvage the scraps.
"He didn't want a record of anything," a former senior Trump official told the Post. "He never stopped ripping things up. Do you really think Trump is going to care about the Records Act? Come on."
The House Oversight panel's findings are likely to overlap with those of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, which this past week received some of the compromised documents. More broadly, the Jan. 6 panel remains laser-focused on Trump and his affiliates' communications before and during the insurrection.
This week, the committee uncovered large and unexplained gaps in White House call logs during the insurrection, according to The New York Times — a report that appears to contravene claims made by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy who acknowledged last year that they had spoken with Trump as the riot was underway. Trump was widely known to take calls on his personal cell phone — or those of aides — circumventing more secure channels of communication.
This week, the Jan. 6 committee also subpoenaed former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has in the past proudly divulged his failed (and distinctly illegal-sounding) plan to reinstall Trump as president after the 2020 election.
Navarro is just the latest in a list of Trump associates to be subpoenaed, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon, since indicted for contempt of Congress; former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; and ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, a central player in Trump's election-unskewing conspiracy. According to CNN, the committee has thus far invited 80 people of interest to testify.
Navarro, for his part, played a key role in encouraging former Vice President Mike Pence (whose "team" has reportedly been cooperative with the Jan. 6 panel) to delay the election certification process — a maneuver intended, in Navarro's account, to throw the election into the House. As we know, Pence concluded what was already obvious: His role in the vote count was purely ceremonial.
Now we move on to the criminal investigation in Georgia led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is exploring Trump's infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump asked to "find" enough votes to tilt the Peach State in his favor. (Raffensperger works in Atlanta, the state capital, which is Willis' jurisdiction.) Last Friday, Willis told CNN that she expects to impanel a grand jury probe and start serving subpoenas this summer. She also said this week that Trump won't be able to delay the case or invoke any form of executive privilege or immunity. "This is a criminal investigation. We're not here playing a game," Willis said. "I plan to use the power of the law. We are all citizens."
Willis' probe may go beyond Trump to a number of his associates, including Meadows, Giuliani, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who called Raffensperger last November, reportedly to ask whether he could find a way to exclude a large proportion of absentee ballots from Georgia's final vote count.
New York City and Albany
Moving north several hundred miles, Trump faces two investigations, one civil and one criminal, into the Trump Organization's finances and business dealings. (Whether either of these probes is focused on Trump personally remains unclear.) In the civil probe being led by New York state Attorney General Letitia James, the central question is whether Trump's company inflated and deflated certain assets for tax and lending reasons, which is a form of fraud.
James recently subpoenaed the federal government's General Services Administration to gather information about how the agency selected the Trump Organization to lease the historic post office building in Washington that became the Trump International Hotel. Last month, James' office said it had found "significant evidence" of financial fraud that "permeated" the Trump Organization — an indication that the state is edging closer to filing a formal lawsuit. Trump has already sued James' office in an effort to stonewall the proceeding, calling her investigation a politically-motivated "witch hunt."
Downriver in New York City, the criminal probe of the Trump Organization launched by former Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, and now led by his successor, Alvin Bragg, has been quiet since mid-December, when one of Trump's accountants appeared before a grand jury to answer questions about the company's business practices. Last summer, that probe produced an actual indictment, when Vance charged Allen Weisselberg, longtime CFO of the Trump Organization, with 15 felony counts for evading $344,745 in taxes over more than a decade. Bragg has only been in office about six weeks, and so far has said nothing about whether he intends to push the investigation further or pursue criminal charges against the Trump empire. Stay tuned!