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The Cases Against Trump: A Guide

Fraud. Hush money. Election subversion. Mar-a-Lago documents. One place to keep track of the presidential candidate’s legal troubles.

Arrows pointing at Donald Trump

Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: Brendan McDermid / Getty.

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Not long ago, the idea that a former president—or a major-party presidential nominee—would face serious legal jeopardy was nearly unthinkable. Today, merely keeping track of the many cases against Donald Trump requires a law degree, a great deal of attention, or both.

In all, Trump faces 91 felony counts across two state courts and two different federal districts, any of which could potentially produce a prison sentence. He has already lost a civil suit in New York that could hobble his business empire, as well as a pair of large defamation judgments. Meanwhile, he is the leading Republican candidate in the race to become the next president. Though the timelines for many of the cases are now up in the air, he could be in the heat of the campaign at the same time that his legal fate is being decided.

David A. Graham: The end of Trump Inc.

Here’s a summary of the major legal cases against Trump, including key dates, an assessment of the gravity of the charges, and expectations about how they could turn out. This guide will be updated regularly as the cases proceed.

New York State: Fraud

In the fall of 2022, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil suit against Trump, his adult sons, and his former aide Allen Weisselberg, alleging a years-long scheme in which Trump fraudulently reported the value of properties in order to either lower his tax bill or improve the terms of his loans, all with an eye toward inflating his net worth.

When?
Justice Arthur Engoron ruled on February 16 that Trump must pay $355 million plus interest, the calculated size of his ill-gotten gains from fraud. The judge had previously ruled against Trump and his co-defendants in late September 2023, concluding that many of the defendants’ claims were “clearly” fraudulent—so clearly that he didn’t need a trial to hear them.

How grave is the allegation?
Fraud is fraud, and in this case, the sum of the fraud stretched into the hundreds of millions—but compared with some of the other legal matters in which Trump is embroiled, this is pretty pedestrian. The case was also civil rather than criminal. But although the stakes are lower for the nation, they remain high for Trump: The size of the penalty appears to be larger than Trump can easily pay, and he also faces a ban on operating his company for three years.

What happens now?
Trump has appealed the case. In the meantime, he has until late March to put up the cost of the penalty or obtain a bond for it.

Manhattan: Defamation and Sexual Assault

Although these other cases are all brought by government entities, Trump also faced a pair of defamation suits from the writer E. Jean Carroll, who said that Trump sexually assaulted her in a department-store dressing room in the 1990s. When he denied it, she sued him for defamation and later added a battery claim.

When?
In May 2023, a jury concluded that Trump had sexually assaulted and defamed Carroll, and awarded her $5 million. A second defamation case produced an $83.3 million judgment in January 2024.

How grave was the allegation?
Although these cases don’t directly connect to the same fundamental issues of rule of law and democratic governance that some of the criminal cases do, they were a serious matter, and a federal judge’s blunt statement that Trump raped Carroll has gone underappreciated.

What happens now?
Trump has appealed both cases. He must post the $83.3 million by March 9.  During the second trial, he also continued to insult Carroll, which may have courted additional defamation suits.

Manhattan: Hush Money

In March 2023, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg became the first prosecutor to bring felony charges against Trump, alleging that the former president falsified business records as part of a scheme to pay hush money to women who said they had had sexual relationships with Trump.

When?
The case is set to go to trial on March 25, Judge Juan Merchant said on February 15.

How grave is the allegation?
Falsifying records is a crime, and crime is bad. But many people have analogized this case to Al Capone’s conviction on tax evasion: It’s not that he didn’t deserve it, but it wasn’t really why he was an infamous villain. That this case alleges behavior that didn’t directly attack elections or put national secrets at risk makes it feel more minor—in part because other cases have set a grossly high standard for what constitutes gravity.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
Bragg’s case faces hurdles including arguments over the statute of limitations, a questionable key witness in the former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, and some fresh legal theories. In short, the Manhattan case seems like perhaps the least significant and most tenuous criminal case. Some Trump critics were dismayed that Bragg was the first to bring criminal charges against the former president.

Department of Justice: Mar-a-Lago Documents

Jack Smith, a special counsel in the U.S. Justice Department, has charged Trump with 37 felonies in connection with his removal of documents from the White House when he left office. The charges include willful retention of national-security information, obstruction of justice, withholding of documents, and false statements. Trump took boxes of documents to properties where they were stored haphazardly, but the indictment centers on his refusal to give them back to the government despite repeated requests.

David A. Graham: This indictment is different

When?
Smith filed charges in June 2023. The trial date is not yet set. Smith has most recently proposed a July trial, but in March, Judge Aileen Cannon seemed skeptical that was feasible. Smith faces a de facto deadline of January 20, 2025, at which point Trump or any Republican president would likely shut down a case.

How grave is the allegation?
These are, I have written, the stupidest crimes imaginable, but they are nevertheless very serious. Protecting the nation’s secrets is one of the greatest responsibilities of any public official with classified clearance, and not only did Trump put these documents at risk, but he also (allegedly) refused to comply with a subpoena, tried to hide the documents, and lied to the government through his attorneys.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
This may be the most open-and-shut case, and the facts and legal theory here are pretty straightforward. But Smith seems to have drawn a short straw when he was randomly assigned Cannon, a Trump appointee who has sometimes ruled favorably for Trump on procedural matters. Some legal commentators have even accused her of “sabotaging” the case.

Fulton County: Election Subversion

In Fulton County, Georgia, which includes most of Atlanta, District Attorney Fani Willis brought a huge racketeering case against Trump and 18 others, alleging a conspiracy that spread across weeks and states with the aim of stealing the 2020 election.

When?
Willis obtained the indictment in August 2023. The number of people charged makes the case unwieldy and difficult to track. Several of them, including Kenneth Chesebro, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis, struck plea deals in the fall. Willis has proposed a trial date of August 5, 2024, for the remaining defendants.

How grave is the allegation?
More than any other case, this one attempts to reckon with the full breadth of the assault on democracy following the 2020 election.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
Expert views differ. This is a huge case for a local prosecutor, even in a county as large as Fulton, to bring. The racketeering law allows Willis to sweep in a great deal of material, and she has some strong evidence—such as a call in which Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” some 11,000 votes. Three major plea deals from co-defendants may also ease Willis’s path, but getting a jury to convict Trump will still be a challenge. Meanwhile, Judge Scott McAfee is expected to rule in March on a motion to disqualify Willis because of a romantic relationship with an attorney she hired as a special prosecutor.

Department of Justice: Election Subversion

Special Counsel Smith has also charged Trump with four federal felonies in connection with his attempt to remain in power after losing the 2020 election. This case is in court in Washington, D.C.

When?
A grand jury indicted Trump on August 1, 2023. The trial was originally scheduled for March 4 but is now on hold while the Supreme Court hears a case about whether the former president should be immune to prosecution. A three-judge panel roundly rejected that claim on February 6, but Trump appealed. The justices will hear the case the week of April 22. The window for a trial to occur before the election is narrowing quickly. As with the other DOJ case, time is of the essence for Smith, because Trump or any other Republican president could shut down a case upon taking office in January 2025.

David A. Graham: Trump attempted a brazen, dead-serious attack on American democracy

How grave is the allegation?
This case rivals the Fulton County one in importance. It is narrower, focusing just on Trump and a few key elements of the paperwork coup, but the symbolic weight of the U.S. Justice Department prosecuting an attempt to subvert the American election system is heavy.

How plausible is a guilty verdict?
It’s very hard to say. Smith avoided some of the more unconventional potential charges, including aiding insurrection, and everyone watched much of the alleged crime unfold in public in real time, but no precedent exists for a case like this, with a defendant like this.

Additionally …

In more than 30 states, cases were filed over whether Trump should be thrown off the 2024 ballot under a novel legal theory about the Fourteenth Amendment. Proponents, including J. Michael Luttig and Laurence H. Tribe in The Atlantic, argued that the former president is ineligible to serve again under a clause that disqualifies anyone who took an oath defending the Constitution and then subsequently participated in a rebellion or an insurrection. They said that Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election and his incitement of the January 6 riot meet the criteria.

When?
Authorities in several states ruled that Trump should be removed from the ballot, and the former president appealed to the Supreme Court. The justices ruled unanimously on March 4 that states could not remove Trump from the ballot. The conservative majority (over strenuous liberal objections) also closed the door on a post-election disqualification by Congress without specific legislation.

How grave is the allegation?
In a sense, the claim made here was even graver than the criminal election-subversion cases filed against Trump by the U.S. Department of Justice and in Fulton County, Georgia, because neither of those cases alleges insurrection or rebellion. But the stakes were also much different—rather than criminal conviction, they concern the ability to serve as president.

What happens next?
The question of disqualification appears to now be closed, with Trump set to appear on the ballot in every state.

David A. Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic.
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