Donald Trump is preparing to hit the campaign trail ahead of next year’s election, but the controversial former US president is being dogged by a number of high profile lawsuits and investigations that could thwart his shot at a second term.
After rumours of arrest for more than a week, Trump was last week indicted by a Manhattan grand jury over allegations he paid hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. He appeared in a New York court on Tuesday (4 April), where he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records in the first degree.
The former president has been involved in dozens of high profile lawsuits since he was first elected president in 2016, many of which are still ongoing. In the 30 years leading up to his presidency, he had been involved in around 3,500, a USA Today deep dive found - including one failed case where he took Scotland to court for building a wind farm near his golf course and planned hotel site.
In some of his more recent cases he was a plaintiff, such as cases involving the publication of his financial and tax information, and lawsuits against Hillary Clinton and dozens of other Democrats alleging they conspired to create a false narrative that he was colluding with Russia to rig the 2016 election.
However, Trump has overwhelmingly been the defendant in these cases, with lawsuits pressed against him targeting everything from his political campaigns, to breaches of the US constitution, to Covid-19 policies, to election fraud claims, to alleged sexual misconduct.
But what are some of the most high profile legal challenges and investigations Trump is currently embroiled in, as he prepares to run for president?
The New York hush money probe
In a social media post earlier in the month, Trump claimed “illegal leaks” from the Manhattan district attorney’s office indicated he would be “arrested on Tuesday”. On 30 March, Trump was indicted - the first time a former US president has been charged with a crime.
Before indicting him, the grand jury in Manhattan heard from Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who says he orchestrated payments in 2016 to two women to silence them about sexual encounters they said they had with Trump a decade earlier.
Mr Cohen said that at Trump’s direction, he arranged payments totalling US$280,000 (£230,000) to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. According to Mr Cohen, the payments were to buy their silence about Mr Trump, who was then in the thick of his first presidential campaign.
Federal prosecutors say the company then paid Mr Cohen US$420,000 dollars (£345,000) to reimburse him, and to cover bonuses and other supposed expenses. The company classified those payments internally as legal expenses.
On 4 April, Trump appeared in court to plead not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records in the first degree. The charges were unsealed, and CNN reports the indictment against Trump alleged the former president was involved in a conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election.
Prosecutors alleged Trump was part of an unlawful plan involving illegal payments to suppress negative information that would hurt his campaign. The indictment alleges that the reason he committed the crime of falsifying business records was in part to “promote his candidacy."
The former president denies the sexual encounters occurred at all, and says he did nothing wrong and has cast the investigation as a “witch hunt” by a Democratic prosecutor, bent on sabotaging the Republican’s 2024 presidential campaign.
The next in-person hearing for this case will be on 4 December, in New York.
Inciting the January 6 riot at Capitol Hill
On 6 January 2021, the US capitol was stormed by a mob who had gathered for a rally to dispute the election result, after Donald Trump’s loss to now-president Joe Biden. The carnage that ensued saw America’s seat of democracy overrun by rioters, with at least seven people losing their lives.
Trump's alleged role in inciting the attack was investigated by a number of federal government bodies. The most visible was a congressional committee that spent 18 months looking into Trump's actions.
The committee held a series of televised hearings laying out their case that his election fraud claims led directly to the riot, accusing Trump of inciting an “attempted coup”, with his repeated claims the election had been stolen from him through widespread voter fraud.
In December last year, members voted unanimously to refer Trump to the US Department of Justice for prosecution, with recommended charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States; and attempts to incite, assist, aid or comfort an insurrection.
The Justice Department has arrested and charged more than 800 people for the violence on 6 January, and is also running a separate criminal probe into both the riot, and attempts to overturn the election, the BBC reports. Despite reportedly being the biggest police investigation in US history, it has been shrouded in secrecy. The extent to which Trump is a focus of the investigation is not yet known.
Attempts to overturn 2020 election results in Georgia
Prosecutors also spent months looking into Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn his narrow loss in the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia. The BBC reports a criminal investigation was opened after the disclosure of an hour-long phone call between the former president and the state's top election official on 2 January 2021, where Trump told Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, "I just want to find 11,780 votes”.
The grand jury investigating the case filed its final report earlier this year, but it remains sealed and there is no news yet on whether they recommended criminal charges. But a prosecutor investigating the case told The Washington Post her team had heard credible allegations that serious crimes had been committed.
“If indicted and convicted, people are facing prison sentences,” District Attorney Fani Willis said. No decision will be made for months on whether there will be indictments, or whether Trump himself will face charges.
The Independent reports a number of other lawsuits have been filed from across the US, in relation to the 202 election and the riot. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund is suing Trump over the election, accusing him, his campaign, and the Republican National Committee of attempting to overturn it, and of violating the Voting Rights Act.
In March 2021, two Capitol police officers also filed a suit against Trump for damages over the “physical and emotional injuries” they suffered during and after the riot, and a federal judge allowed three other lawsuits, from police forces to move forward on similar grounds.
This January, Trump was hit with yet another lawsuit from the longtime partner of former Washington police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after he sustained injuries on 6 January. Also in January, a judge refused to toss a suit from a group of US Capitol police officers who say Trump and others violated federal law and fuelled the riot.
Investigation into classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago
Last year, Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida residence, was searched by FBI agents. The BBC reports at least 15 boxes containing some 11,000 documents were seized, including around 100 marked as classified - some even labelled top secret.
The National Archives said Trump should have turned over that material upon leaving office, and asked the Justice Department to investigate.
Disclosing the search in a lengthy statement, the former US President said that agents opened up a safe at his home, and described their work as an “unannounced raid” that he likened to “prosecutorial misconduct”. He has denied wrongdoing, but has shied away from directly addressing why the documents were at Mar-a-Lago in the first place.
Trump has argued that he declassified the material, although has so far not provided any evidence this is true. He has also argued some of the documents were protected by privilege, which means they cannot be used in legal proceedings. An independent lawyer has been reviewing the seized material to determine if this is the case.
This is an active criminal investigation and could result in charges being filed, the BBC reports. The justice department believes Trump may have violated the Espionage Act by keeping national security information that "could be used to the injury of the United States".
Last week, a judge made a sealed order, ruling federal prosecutors investigating the potential mishandling of classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate will be able to again question his lawyer - Evan Corcoran - before a grand jury.
Sexual violence claims
Trump recently faced a civil trial for rape allegations, which began in late April. A jury rejected claims that she was raped a writer was raped, but found Trump liable for sexually abusing her in 1996.
Magazine columnist E Jean Carroll was awarded £4 million in a judgement that some have speculated could haunt the former US President’s campaign to return to the White House in 2024. The jury also found him liable of defaming her after she made her allegations public.
Carroll claimed in a 2019 memoir that she was raped by Trump in the mid-1990s in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman, an upmarket Manhattan department store. Trump has repeatedly insisted he never met her at the store, and that he did not know who she was.
He maintained this claim in a post on his own social media platform Truth Social after the verdict came in: “I have absolutely no idea who this woman is. The verdict is a disgrace – a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time.”
Meanwhile, Ms Carroll told reporters: “I filed this lawsuit against Donald Trump to clear my name and to get my life back. Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.”
Federal judge Lewis Kaplan of Manhattan had earlier ruled that misogynistic remarks Trump made in 2005, where he claims he did not realise he was being recorded, could be played for the jury. He also ruled that two women who made sexual abuse claims in circumstances similar to those alleged by the plaintiff could give evidence at trial.
Other recent investigations and court cases
The Trump Organization was found guilty of 17 tax fraud counts in December, Business Insider reports, after a jury held Trump's real estate and golf resort business criminally liable for a 2005-2018 tax-dodge scheme - run by two of the company’s top financial executives.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has sued Trump, his family, and the Trump Organization. She alleges Trump inflated the values of his properties by billions of dollars in financial filings, used to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in bank loans. She also alleges he low-balled his properties' worth for tax breaks. Trump has derided James’ efforts as a politically motivated witch hunt, Business Insider says.
The lawsuit will be decided by a Manhattan judge in October. James wants the company to pay back the $250 million Trump allegedly pocketed through misleading bank, and wants to ban Trump and his three eldest children - Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump, who have all served as Trump Organization executives - from ever running a company in New York state again.
Meanwhile, a new report released by the House Democrats over the weekend claimed Donald Trump’s White House has failed to report more than 100 gifts from foreign nations worth more than a quarter of a million dollars (£205,220).
Federal officials have been unable to find a life-size painting of Trump given by the president of El Salvador as well as golf clubs from the prime minister of Japan, the report added. Among the unreported items are 16 gifts from Saudi Arabia worth more than $45,000 (£36,939) in total, including a dagger valued at up to $24,000 (£19,701), and 17 presents from India that include expensive cufflinks, a vase and a $4,600 (£3,776) model of the Taj Mahal.
Gifts above several hundred dollars that foreign officials give to the president, vice president and their families are required under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act to be reported to the State Department.