Decisions have been announced in recent days that put former US President Donald Trump in serious trouble in several of the judicial proceedings in which he is currently being investigated or accused. Trump, who announced his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election a few weeks ago, is currently involved in About twenty of legal proceedings involving various crimes, including sexual assault, defamation, election interference during the 2020 presidential election, various cases of tax evasion and fraud (including one which, although not directly involving him, is getting into big trouble the Trump Organization, i.e. its main company).
In addition, a long and thorough investigation into his involvement in the attack on the US Congress on January 6, 2021 is underway and an additional federal investigation launched when it was discovered that, at the end of his presidency, Trump would lead to Mar-a- Lago, his villa in Florida, numerous secret documents without ever returning them to the authorities. The investigations concern the alleged concealment of confidential documents, the obstruction of justice and the alleged violation of the Espionage Act, the federal law which prohibits and punishes any espionage offences.
The first development concerns precisely the investigation of confidential documents. At the beginning of August, the FBI (the investigative agency of the federal police) had searched Mar-a-Lago and had found over twenty boxes containing more than 13,000 documents, including a hundred classified as confidential and covered by secrecy, which should have been kept only in government buildings.
The FBI had taken numerous documents from the villa classified as “top secret” or as “sensitive compartmented information”, one of the categories that indicate highly sensitive and confidential information. However, Trump had managed to postpone the moment in which the Justice Department could have used elements of the seized material in its investigation, requesting and obtaining that the documents be submitted for review by a person trusted by both parties (called a “special master” ), who only later shared their views on their content.
The move had been interpreted as a ploy to hinder investigations into confidential documents found in his villa. Trump had also sued the Justice Department, accusing it of only launching the investigation for political reasons and of wanting to hinder his candidacy in the 2024 presidential election.
A federal appeals court on Thursday halted the special master’s review, overturning the decision of the lower court that had granted it (whose judge, Aileen Cannon, had been appointed by Trump himself while in office). According to the appeals court, «allowing any person subject to a search warrant to block government investigations after the warrant has been executed or writing a law that only allows former presidents to do so (…) would represent a radical reorganization of the our jurisprudence, which would limit the involvement of federal courts in criminal investigations. And both would violate the fundamental limits of the separation of powers.
Trump still has the option to appeal to the Supreme Court to try to overturn the decision. Meanwhile, thanks to the ruling, federal investigators can regain access to unclassified documents that were recovered during the August search, which the Justice Department says could confirm that Trump made improper use of government material in his possession.
On Washington Post, Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett point out that it is «a major victory for the Justice Department and a legal defeat for Trump, who has gone to court multiple times to try to prevent the government from gaining access to documents or personal informations. Just last week, the Supreme Court denied the former president’s request to prevent a congressional committee from receiving a copy of his six-year tax returns, paving the way for them to be turned over to lawmakers.
In fact, ever since the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in 2019, a commission has been trying to obtain Trump’s tax documents: in the past, the former president has denied that they contain any wrongdoing, but it is considered highly suspicious that since since 2016 he has refused to publish these documents when his predecessors had done so for decades.
In 2020, the New York Times had also revealed that Trump had engaged in several large-scale tax avoidance maneuvers: a highly controversial practice, but not illegal. According to their investigation, the then-president had succeeded through subterfuge in not paying any federal income taxes for more than a decade, despite repeatedly bragging about his wealth and his successes as a businessman.
Trump has taken several legal actions to block the release of his tax returns, and the Treasury Department was only able to turn over the documents relating to the 2015-2020 fiscal years yesterday. It is not yet clear if the commission will decide to make them public, or if they actually contain something incriminating, but there is very little time to figure it out: on January 3, the Republicans will once again have the majority in the House, which they obtained after the mid-term elections. term in early November, and it is unlikely that they will continue to investigate the possible tax crimes of one of their most prominent officials.