Donald Trump is no longer shielded from legal scrutiny. As he returns to private life, the former president will find himself vulnerable to criminal and civil matters. Some could have substantial ties to the sports industry.
Until Wednesday, the 74-year-old billionaire had enjoyed the same litigation privileges as his 44 predecessors. Legal scholars disagree about the extent to which sitting presidents are immune from courts’ jurisdiction. However, there is general consensus that sitting presidents can’t be criminally charged. “The indictment of or criminal prosecution of a sitting President,” the U.S. Department of Justice maintained in a 2000 memo, “would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.” At the same time, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in William Jefferson Clinton v. Paula Jones, presidents can be sued in federal court for alleged violations of the law that occurred prior to taking office.
The most worrisome legal matter for Trump is the prospect of state criminal charges. Trump could face charges in Georgia for possible election interference and in his native state of New York, where his failed attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014 could play a key role in any financial crime charges.
To that end, the offices of New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance are investigating the Trump Organization and its leadership.
Trump’s dealings with Deutsche Bank are believed to be central to the probes. In 2019, Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress that Trump had knowingly inflated the value of his assets and property—including a sharp increase in net worth from $4.56 billion in 2012 to $6.88 billion in 2013—in order to more persuasively petition Deutsche Bank to loan him money. One of Trump’s objectives: obtain the necessary financing to buy the Buffalo Bills.
After Ralph Wilson passed away in 2014, the Bills were marketed by Morgan Stanley. Trump, Buffalo Sabres owners Terry Pegula and Kim Pegula, and an investor group led by musician Jon Bon Jovi were the three finalists. The Pegulas won with a $1.4 billion offer, reportedly more than a half billion dollars more than Trump had proposed.
The New York Times reports that, over the years, Deutsche Bank has loaned Trump more than $1 billion for various projects. It’s unknown if, or how, the bank assisted in Trump’s attempted NFL purchase. Cohen, who is serving a federal prison sentence for tax evasion and campaign finance violations in home confinement, met with Manhattan prosecutors last Thursday to further discuss Trump’s relationship with the bank.
Cohen’s claims should not be automatically accepted as fact. Though he made some of his allegations while under oath—and thus under penalty of perjury—Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying before Congress during prior testimony. Further, financial documents shared by Cohen have not been authenticated or verified in a court of law.
Still, the claims portray Trump as potentially committing several types of financial crimes. They include knowingly providing false information on a loan application, bank fraud and wire fraud.
It might be too late for Trump to face New York charges relating to the Bills. New York law features a five-year statute of limitations for most felonies, meaning (in general) any crimes that occurred in 2014 are now too far in the past. That said, prosecutors sometimes argue the clock shouldn’t begin to run or should be tolled (suspended) if the criminal act wasn’t discoverable due to concealment, wasn’t yet complete or was part of ongoing dealings. Federal fraud charges would not face such timing hurdles. The applicable statute of limitation would be 10 years.
A less legally threatening, but still politically damaging, concern for Trump is allegations of undocumented workers at Trump golf courses.
Both the New York Times and Washington Post have reported on undocumented workers from Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica and other countries employed at Trump golf courses in New York and New Jersey. The workers are depicted as performing masonry and food services work.
Trump has attempted to distance himself from management decisions related to the courses, stressing that he no longer runs the Trump Organization. Sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump now lead it.
The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and state agencies investigate employers for possible immigration fraud and related wage and labor law abuses. Employers can be fined for knowingly hiring or recruiting unauthorized aliens for employment. Although rare, employers can also be criminally charged if they partake in a pattern of hiring or recruiting undocumented workers.
Trump National Golf Club Westchester is said to be under active investigation by James, the New York attorney general, for possible wage violations. Undocumented workers at the course reportedly complain they are instructed to work longer hours off the clock and without pay.
As a politician, Trump has made curbing illegal immigration from Mexico a central theme. Yet if he or his organization is shown to have recruited, employed and misused undocumented workers, it would carry possible legal consequences and expose him as hypocritical.