Former President Trump stands indicted in four separate cases, following this week’s indictment in Georgia. No other serving or former president has ever been indicted for an alleged crime.
The historic indictments pose grave legal risks to Trump and have unpredictable political consequences as he seeks to return to the White House. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The indictments have not, so far, eroded his massive lead in the battle for the GOP nomination, but his poll ratings with the general public are mediocre.
Here is a guide to the level of peril each indictment poses to the former president.
Mar-a-Lago classified documents
Trump is charged with 40 counts, a handful of which have either one or two co-defendants. The others charged are Trump aide Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira, both of whom have pleaded not guilty.
The charges against Trump include 32 counts of willful retention of national defense information, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and several counts pertaining to different forms of concealment.
Special counsel Jack Smith
What’s it all about?
Trump’s retention of sensitive documents from his presidency, in the face of efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and latterly the FBI, to get them back:
This was a long and tortuous effort, which appears to have been constantly frustrated by Trump.
Ultimately, more than 300 documents bearing classified markings were either given back or discovered when the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida Aug. 8, 2022.
A May 2022 subpoena had required Trump to turn over all documents in his possession that were marked as classified. He did not do so.
Instead, in June 2022, the Trump team turned over 38 documents and an attorney for the former president certified that “any and all responsive documents” were included. This was untrue.
Trump Danger Ranking: 1
The former president’s case is weak from the get-go, including his own public claim — notably not repeated in any legal filings by his lawyers — that, as president, he could declassify things in his mind without needing to tell anyone.
The charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice may be the most dangerous for Trump.
The indictment includes an abundance of seemingly grave details in this respect.
Trump is alleged to have suggested lying to authorities, asking one of his lawyers, “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”
His aide, Nauta, is alleged to have moved boxes of documents at the former president’s direction, perhaps to aid their concealment. His lawyer is alleged to recall that at one point Trump made a plucking motion to suggest the lawyer might remove the most incriminating documents from those he would hand over to authorities.
It’s possible, perhaps, that Trump will simply argue this conduct never took place. But if prosecutors can prove that it did, it is very hard to find a plausible explanation that gets the former president off the hook.
Georgia and the 2020 election
Trump is charged with 13 counts and has 18 co-defendants.
The charges against the former president include racketeering, three counts of soliciting a public officer to violate their oath and two counts of conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D)
What’s it all about?
Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in the Peach State.
President Biden carried Georgia by fewer than 12,000 votes, becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state since former President Clinton in 1992.
One of the more notable decisions by Willis was to charge Trump and his 18 co-defendants under her state’s RICO statutes — laws originally designed for use against organized crime.
The indictment covers several separate but related matters.
These include Trump’s notorious call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) Jan. 2, 2021, in which the then-president pressured Raffensperger to “find” just enough votes to wipe out Biden’s margin of victory.
Also in the crosshairs are meetings that Trump’s lawyers and other allies, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), had with members of the Georgia state House and state Senate, hoping to get them to intervene. The indictment also includes a plan to put forth a slate of unauthorized pro-Trump electors who would have had the effect of overturning the voters’ verdict.
A charge for filing false documents looks especially perilous for Trump.
The indictment alleges that he and attorney John Eastman submitted a court filing for “injunctive relief” at the end of 2020, despite “having reason to know” that the document was riddled with false statements.
Trump Danger Ranking: 2
Trump’s defenders have sought to cast this as an indictment infringing upon his right to free speech. But that’s not really true — he is being indicted for actions, such as trying to persuade Raffensperger to step in, or submitting the allegedly mendacious legal filing.
Legal experts are divided on whether there is some modicum of defense for Trump in his argument that he believed his claims to be accurate.
The gravest danger might be a more practical one. Unlike the two federal cases brought by Smith, Trump cannot do much about his plight in Georgia even if he were elected president again. The state is sovereign in the matter, and even its governor does not have pardon power.
Meanwhile, the other state-level case against Trump, in New York, is nowhere near as strong.
Federal case on 2020 election, Jan. 6 Capitol riot
Trump is charged with four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy against rights, and two charges relating to obstruction of an official proceeding. He is the sole person named in the indictment, though it also lists six unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators.
Special counsel Jack Smith
What’s it all about?
The attempt by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election, which reached its nadir with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol: More than 100 police officers were injured, lawmakers fled in fear of their lives and some protestors declared their desire to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence.
The 45-page indictment begins by seeking to draw a distinction between Trump’s First Amendment right to argue the election was conducted unfairly and the alleged criminality inherent in going forward with plans to overturn it.
Into the latter category are included allegations such as using “knowingly false claims of election fraud to get state legislators and election officials to subvert the legitimate election results”; organizing fraudulent slates of electors in seven key states; pressuring Pence to refuse to certify the results; and seeking to use the Justice Department “to conduct sham election crime investigations.”
Trump Danger Ranking: 3
The underlying conduct here is the gravest in any of the Trump indictments. He stands accused of undermining American democracy itself.
Additionally, much of the relevant behavior took place in public. A separate probe by a House select committee uncovered yet more incriminating evidence.
The fact that the case is taking place in Washington is also bad for Trump in terms of a likely jury pool. President Biden received 93 percent of the vote in the District of Columbia in 2020.
But the obvious defense for the president is to argue — plausibly or otherwise — that he legitimately believed the election had been stolen.
The indictment anticipates this argument, noting how many aides and supporters told Trump his claims were wrong. But he could, presumably, assert that others told him he was right, and he believed them.
That’s hardly a watertight defense.
But Trump has another insurance policy, of a kind.
So long as he wins the presidency back and the case is not completely exhausted by the time he reenters the White House, he could use his powers to order the Justice Department to discontinue the case against him.
Such a move would pitch the nation into a constitutional crisis. But few people are willing to bet against Trump doing it if he can.
New York and the Stormy Daniels money
Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. He is the sole defendant named in the indictment.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D)
What’s it all about?
The core of the indictment goes back to a hush money payment of $130,000 to the adult actress Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign.
The payment was facilitated by Trump’s then-attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who subsequently turned against the former president and was himself convicted of campaign-finance violations and tax evasion.
Cohen made the payments himself and was later reimbursed by the Trump Organization. To make a complicated story short, the corporation made those payments over a lengthy period of time, under the auspices of a retainer agreement for legal services.
Bragg’s argument is that those payments were listed in such a way as to be, in essence, fraudulent and that the overall process “hid damaging evidence from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”
Trump Danger Ranking: 4
There is an unusual degree of unanimity around the belief that the New York case is the weakest of the four Trump faces. Even some harsh critics of the president have been notably lukewarm about it.
It’s also the least compelling in the court of public opinion. It concerns private behavior from before Trump was president. The behavior in question may have been lurid — Daniels alleges she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006 — but it hardly poses a danger to American democracy or national security, in contrast to the alleged conduct in the other three cases.
There’s even some argument to be made that the business filings were not really fraudulent at all and that the hush money deal was, in fact, part of the legal services provided by Cohen.
The most notable thing about the New York case is that it marked the first time in history a president or ex-president had been criminally indicted.