How the various investigations into Trump’s world overlap
Two years after Donald Trump won the US presidency, nearly every organisation he has led in the past decade is under investigation. The scope of what Trump alone faces is daunting, particularly when coupled with the existing probes into people close to him. The timeline of those investigations, in fact, stretches back well over a decade. The periods under investigation look something like this.
Improper behaviour by the Trump Organization on taxes
1980s-2004: Civil investigation by New York state
After an exhaustive investigation by The New York Times, documenting years of the Trump Organisation’s apparent efforts to hide profits from taxation, New York state’s tax agency announced it was investigating whether civil penalties might apply. Since the alleged behaviour began decades ago, the statutes of limitation on criminal violations have expired.
Fraud allegations against Trump University
October 2004-December 2016: Settled civil suit from New York state
Shortly after he won the presidential election, Trump settled a long-standing lawsuit regarding a program called Trump University. A number of former students alleged that the program failed to deliver on promises that had been made in advertising. Trump didn’t admit guilt. The organization was incorporated in 2004, and Trump agreed to settle two years ago.
Improper behaviour by the Trump Foundation
September 2007-December 2016: Criminal investigation by New York state
Deep reporting revealed a pattern of apparent improper behaviour by Trump’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit. During the campaign, the foundation paid a penalty for improperly donating to a political group associated with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican. The investigation underway now includes allegations that Trump leveraged the foundation for the benefit of his campaign. Among the first alleged violations was a 2007 payment from the foundation to settle a legal dispute involving the Trump Organization. The suit was settled two years ago.
Campaign finance violations
August 2015-October 2016: Criminal investigation by a US attorney in Manhattan
Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen admitted to violations of campaign finance law in relation to payments made to silence two women who alleged affairs with Trump. One of those payments came from the publisher of the National Enquirer, which agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for avoiding punishment. Cohen and the US attorneys have implicated Trump in the violations. The first discussion of American Media possibly helping to bury negative stories came in August 2015, according to prosecutors. The payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels was made shortly before the election.
Possible coordination with Russian interference efforts
March 2016-November 2016: Criminal investigation by special counsel
The main investigation about which Trump has expressed concern is special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into whether Trump or his campaign coordinated with an effort by the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 election. The alleged Russian hacking began in March 2016, the same month that campaign adviser George Papadopoulos made contact with a London-based professor who had ties to the Russian government.
Possible improper fund-raising or influence on the inaugural committee
November 2016-January 2017: Criminal investigation by US attorney in Manhattan
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the US attorney from the Southern District of New York is looking at the money that moved through the president’s inaugural committee - more than $106 million. There has already been one admission of guilt in accepting improper money; it’s reported that Mueller is interested in the subject as well. The period at issue overlapped with the transition period.
Improper payments from foreign actors
January 2017-present: Civil suit from attorneys general in the District of Columbia and Maryland
A suit brought by Maryland and the District of Columbia is aimed at determining the extent to which Trump Organization properties - still owned in part by the president - are taking in foreign money in possible violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. As of his inauguration, such payments became possible legal violations.
Possible obstruction of justice
February 2017-present: Criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller
The other main thread of Mueller’s probe centres on whether Trump sought to obstruct the work of federal investigators into possible criminal behaviour by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s son Donald Jr. or Trump himself.
Mueller, of course, has been busy in other areas, too. He obtained indictments against former campaign staffers Paul Manafort and Rick Gates for alleged criminal behaviour extending back to 2006. Mueller obtained an admission of guilt from Flynn about misleading investigators at the outset of Trump’s presidency. On Monday, two of Flynn’s former colleagues were indicted by a federal court in Virginia for charges of misleading investigators and illegal lobbying. The plea agreement from Cohen in August documented illegal behaviour stretching back to 2012. And, of course, Mueller is probing how Russia worked to influence the 2016 election - and possible collusion by people in Trump’s outer orbit, such as longtime adviser Roger Stone, in that Russian effort. Those investigations aren’t directly related to Trump, but each touches him or his campaign in some way. Even without them, the number of threats posed to Trump, his administration and his private business are substantial. Most if not all of those investigations or lawsuits may come up empty. If any don’t, though, Trump’s political position could get very shaky, very quickly.