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A ‘Sea of Troubles’ is converging on the people of Trumpland

A ‘Sea of Troubles’ is converging on the people of Trumpland
Former US president Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Canyon Moon Ranch festival grounds on 15 January 12022 in Florence, Arizona. The rally marks Trump’s first of the midterm election year with races for both the US Senate and governor in Arizona. (Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

The former US president and some of his closest advisers are now beginning to feel the heat from a growing circle of investigations about his past business, personal and political behaviour. It may end very badly for him.

The world is awash with baleful possibilities. There is a growing chance of actual hostilities between Russia and Ukraine from a Russian invasion (and thus the further risk of a still wider conflict).

Then there are the continuing, mind-numbing exposés of deep wells of corruption and ineptitude in the South African government, coups and simmering civil wars in places like Ethiopia, a barrage of long-range ballistic missiles being tested by North Korea to remind everyone they can upset all the apple carts if they choose. And there are also chances for hostilities between China and Taiwan as a result of a long-felt need by China to complete the reunification of the country. 

Among all these troubling questions, it might be easy to forget about Donald Trump and his ilk’s current legal travails. But they are there, and they are growing stronger as numerous investigations converge on the consequences stemming from his tenuous grasp of the truth and his embrace of dangerous, malicious nonsense instead. Accordingly, today we will take a short break from all those other challenges and take a closer look at the web of troubles converging on the people of Trumpland.

First of all, four separate grand jury investigations are now well and truly launched. (Jay Kuo has summarised the grand jury and other investigations here. Of course, grand juries are not the final arbiters of whether a crime has been committed and they take time to carry out their tasks. They are usually not like the rapid processes one sees in police and legal procedural television series in long-running shows such as Law and Order

Instead of generating convictions, grand juries are empanelled to hear evidence presented by prosecutors to determine if criminal charges should next be pursued in actual trials. In real life, a grand jury is not convened unless prosecutors already believe the evidence they hold is compelling. As a result, once a grand jury is on the job, there is a strong likelihood charges will be brought forward in a trial; a trial with actual consequences. 

According to some studies, in Manhattan, a grand jury ends up issuing a bill of indictment in the vast majority of instances. And that means a trial is next. Some experts believe a range of criminal charges, including some specifically referring to the former president, will eventually emerge from ongoing grand jury proceedings.

Still, such an outcome is not a lock. No former president has ever been indicted in the US by a grand jury for a crime, and the former president still has strong backing from members of his political party. Accordingly, any indictment actually naming Trump as someone who must undergo a trial would need to present really solid evidence and a convincing narrative that could not be ignored. It would need to be presented in a way that would be both clearer and more graphic and even more convincing than the way the former president’s actions were depicted in both of his impeachment trials and in the Mueller report.

And so what, specifically, are these four grand juries? There are two in Manhattan focusing on matters related to Donald Trump and the Trump Organisation, and two in Fulton County, Georgia. One of those Manhattan grand juries has already indicted Trump’s company and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg, on tax evasion charges involving undeclared free apartments, tuition and other income. Trial dates are not yet scheduled, however.

The second Manhattan grand jury is looking into the Trump pattern of deliberately inflating valuations on Trump-owned properties in order to defraud banks, insurance companies and the tax authorities. Uh-oh. None of these actions can reasonably be described as accidental or minor miscues — or fiddly mistakes that came from rounding errors by sloppy, inept lawyers and accountants. In particular, a years-long effort of tax evasion, as opposed to those legal measures carried out as tax avoidance in accordance with the tax code, are just the kind of thing that historically brought down people like the criminal underworld kingpin Al Capone.

In addition, there are now two grand juries in Fulton County, Georgia, taking testimony and undertaking investigations into charges of election fraud by the Trump campaign — and the candidate himself. In particular, they are looking at politically potent, high-pressure calls to state election officials to rig the election.

In Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis has now asked a judge to convene a second grand jury to assist with this mess. This second grand jury will not be empowered to issue indictments, but it will be able to carry out a rigorous investigation and compel testimony and documents to be provided because it will have a judge specifically assigned to it who can issue bench orders quickly.   

Meanwhile, there is also a civil tax case (as opposed to a criminal one noted above) in New York State as the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, has moved forward to compel testimony and documentation from Trump Sr, Don Jr, and daughter Ivanka as part of the state’s civil tax fraud suit. James announced a whole roster of “significant additional evidence”, drawing attention to the plan to falsely state the true value of Trump-held properties, charges that overlap that criminal investigation in Manhattan. 

It is important to understand that a civil tax suit, such as the one above, requires a lower threshold of proof than criminal cases, even as it can still generate hefty fines and penalties — and the forfeiture of all those ill-gotten gains. Conceivably, it might even result in an order that makes it impossible for the Trump Organisation to conduct any business in New York State. Moreover, all that damaging information about falsely prepared financial statements from the Trump Organisation will likely make it hard for that entity to borrow money or carry out any business with other companies in the future.

As far as the former president, his family, his friends and his bagmen were concerned, if all of the above were not enough, there is, of course, the now-ongoing January 6 Select Committee of the House of Representatives as well. In recent days, the Supreme Court has agreed with the committee that hundreds of pages of archived records from the former president’s administration could not be sheltered by claims of executive privilege and they have been turned over to the committee by the government. 

Some of that treasure trove is particularly troubling. These include a draft executive order that would have instructed federalised elements of the National Guard to seize voting machines across the nation and to set up a special counsel to investigate those — clearly false — claims of vote fraud, the claims that fuel the Trumpian calumny the election was rigged and stolen from him.

Then, Ivanka Trump has now been asked to make herself available to be interviewed by the committee. A publicly released letter from the committee that set out the “theory of the case” made it clear that the committee already has some damning testimony from earlier cooperating witnesses showing the then president had schemed to overturn the results of the election, was clearly derelict in his duties to uphold the constitution, and that he was pleased by the attack on the Capitol while the formal certification of the election was under way. Presumably, Ivanka Trump has some interesting things to say on all this.

Now, it has also become clear presidential legal adviser Rudy Giuliani had been central to coordinating efforts to produce slates of alternative electors from states actually won by Joe Biden in November 2020. Arguably, such actions could be interpreted as a conspiracy to defraud the United States — and with Giuliani — and the former president — at the centre of that conspiracy.

The Select Committee has announced it plans public hearings early this year, to give the public an opportunity to learn what the committee has now brought — or will bring — together as evidence. That would likely mean witnesses testifying publicly and on television. The thought of that has led some Republican figures like Newt Gingrich to threaten that committee members might even be jailed if the House of Representatives switches to being a Republican-led house, following the midterm election this year. 

This is simply bizarre bluster, albeit damaging to the already overwrought public space, since Congress cannot jail its adversaries without the actual assistance of the Justice Department, and leadership of that cabinet department cannot switch hands until at least until 20 January 2025. Still, the grand juries and investigations are part of a high-stakes poker game.

One last thing: Should the former president actually be charged and convicted as a result of any of the above investigations and potential trials, he would constitutionally be ineligible to run for any federal office. In other words, he could not run for president again, regardless of how vociferously the MAGA mobs bay his name or buy his trinkets and hats. DM

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  • Craig King says:

    It seems in the USA banks and insurance companies don’t carry out their own evaluations before accepting collateral or of insuring assets. It must be one of a very few countries in the world where this goes on.

  • Ron Ron says:

    Lovely little hit piece by someone who evidently despises the former President and cannot keep that antipathy out of his writing.

    • Michiel Heyns says:

      It is a pretty factual piece, as far as I can tell. If those facts are damning, that may be the fault of the former president, not the writer of the article.

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