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Citizen Trump will face legal woes

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Since taking office in January 2017, President Donald Trump has been besieged by civil lawsuits and criminal investigations of his inner circle.

[WASHINGTON] Since taking office in January 2017, President Donald Trump has been besieged by civil lawsuits and criminal investigations of his inner circle.

With Democrat Joe Biden capturing the presidency on Saturday, according to all major US television networks, Mr Trump's legal woes are likely to deepen because in January he will lose the protections the US legal system affords to a sitting president, former prosecutors said.

Here are some of the lawsuits and criminal probes that may haunt Mr Trump as he leaves office.

A NEW YORK PROSECUTOR

Manhattan District Attorney (DA) Cyrus Vance, who enforces New York state laws, has been conducting a criminal investigation into Mr Trump and the Trump Organization for more than two years.

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The probe originally focused on hush money payments that Mr Trump's former lawyer and self-described fixer Michael Cohen paid before the 2016 election to two women who said they had sexual encounters with Mr Trump, which the president has denied.

DA Vance, a Democrat, has suggested in recent court filings that his probe is now broader and could focus on bank, tax and insurance fraud, as well as falsification of business records.

Republican Trump has called DA Vance's case politically motivated harassment.

The case has drawn attention because of DA Vance's efforts to obtain eight years of Mr Trump's tax returns. In July, the US Supreme Court, denying Mr Trump's bid to keep the returns under wraps, said the president was not immune from state criminal probes while in office, but could raise other defences to DA Vance's subpoena.

DA Vance will likely ultimately prevail in obtaining Mr Trump's financial records, legal experts said.

The US Justice Department has said a sitting president cannot be indicted. DA Vance is not bound by that policy because he is not a federal prosecutor, but he may still have been reluctant to charge Mr Trump because of uncertainty over whether the case was constitutional, said Harry Sandick, a former prosecutor in New York.

"Those concerns will disappear when Trump leaves office," Mr Sandick said.

The investigation poses a threat to Mr Trump, said Corey Brettschneider, a professor of political science at Brown University.

"The fact that they have issued the subpoenas and have litigated all the way to the Supreme Court suggests that this is a very serious criminal investigation of the president," Mr Brettschneider said.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROBE?

Mr Trump could conceivably face a criminal prosecution brought by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), led by a new US Attorney General.

Some legal experts have said Mr Trump could face federal income tax evasion charges, pointing to a New York Times report that Mr Trump paid US$750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017.

"You've got the stuff that has come out of the New York Times that has all kind of indicia of tax fraud," said Nick Akerman, a lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney and a former federal prosecutor.

Mr Akerman cautioned that it is not possible to know for certain until seeing all of the evidence.

Mr Trump has rejected findings from the Times report, tweeting that he had paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled to depreciation and tax credits.

Such a prosecution would be deeply controversial, and the Justice Department could decide charging Mr Trump is not in the public interest even if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Mr Biden has approached that question very carefully, saying he would not interfere with his Justice Department's judgment.

Mr Biden told National Public Radio in August that pursuing criminal charges against his predecessor would be "a very, very unusual thing and probably not very - how can I say it? - good for democracy". A lawyer for Mr Trump did not return requests for comment.

NEW YORK CIVIL FRAUD INVESTIGATION

New York's Attorney General, Letitia James, has an active tax fraud investigation into Mr Trump and his family company, the Trump Organization.

The inquiry by Ms James, a Democrat, began after Mr Trump's former lawyer Cohen told Congress the president inflated asset values to save money on loans and insurance and deflated them to reduce real estate taxes.

The Trump Organization has argued the case is politically motivated.

The inquiry is a civil investigation, meaning it could result in financial penalties but not jail time.

Mr Trump's son, Eric Trump, an executive vice-president for the firm, was deposed in October because of what the attorney general described as his close involvement in one or more transactions being reviewed.

JEAN CARROLL

Jean Carroll, a former Elle magazine writer, sued Mr Trump for defamation in 2019 after the president denied Ms Carroll's allegation that he raped her in the 1990s and accused her of lying to drum up sales for a book.

In August, a state judge allowed the case to go forward, meaning Ms Carroll's lawyers could seek a DNA sample from Mr Trump to match against a dress she said she wore at the New York City department store.

A federal judge in Manhattan rejected a bid by the US Justice Department to substitute the federal government for Mr Trump as defendant in the case. US District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan said that Mr Trump did not make his statements about Ms Carroll in the scope of his employment as president.

Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan, said she expected Mr Biden's Justice Department to abandon the effort to shield Mr Trump from the case.

"It would seem unlikely for DOJ to continue to pursue what I see as a frivolous argument in a new administration," said Ms McQuade, a former federal prosecutor.

SUMMER ZERVOS

Mr Trump also faces a lawsuit by Summer Zervos, a 2005 contestant on Mr Trump's reality television show The Apprentice, who says Mr Trump kissed her against her will at a 2007 meeting and later groped her at a hotel.

After Mr Trump called Ms Zervos a liar, she sued him for defamation.

Mr Trump said he is immune from the lawsuit because he is president.

The case has been on hold while a New York state appeals court reviewed a March 2019 decision that Mr Trump had to face the case while he is in office. Mr Trump's immunity argument would no longer apply once he is out of office.

REUTERS

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