Trump's potential indictment caps decades of legal scrutiny
Former President Donald J Trump watches the NCAA Wrestling Championships, Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

NEW YORK (AP) — For 40 years, former President Donald Trump has navigated countless legal investigations without ever facing criminal charges. That record may soon come to an end.

Trump could be indicted by a Manhattan grand jury as soon as this week, potentially charged with falsifying business records connected to hush money payments during his 2016 campaign to women who accused him of sexual encounters.

It's one of several investigations that have intensified as Trump mounts his third presidential run. He has denied any allegations of wrongdoing and accuses prosecutors of engaging in a politically motivated “witch hunt” to damage his campaign.

An indictment in New York would mark an extraordinary turn in American history, making Trump the first former president to face a criminal charge. And it would carry tremendous weight for Trump himself, threatening his long-established ability to avoid consequences despite entanglement in a dizzying number of cases.

Indictment, says biographer Michael D’Antonio, would be a “shocking event, both because of the fact that a former president is being indicted for the first time, but also because one of the slipperiest people at the highest level of business, whose devotion to abusing the system is so well established, is being caught."

“Throughout his life, he has done things for which he could have been investigated and potentially prosecuted and learned from those experiences that he could act with impunity," he said.

Trump first faced legal scrutiny in the 1970s when the Department of Justice brought a racial discrimination case against his family's real estate business.

Trump and his father fiercely fought the suit, which accused them of refusing to rent apartments to black tenants in predominantly white buildings. Testimony showed that applications filed by prospective black tenants were marked with a “C" for “coloured.” Trump counter-sued for $100 million, accusing the government of defamation.

The case ended with a settlement that opened the way for some black tenants but did not force the Trumps to explicitly acknowledge they had “failed and neglected” to comply with the Fair Housing Act.

Since then, Trump and his businesses have been the subject of thousands of civil lawsuits and numerous investigations. There have been probes into his casino and real estate dealings, allegations of bribery and improper lobbying, fraud allegations against the now-defunct Trump University and charitable Trump Foundation and a probe by the Manhattan district attorney into sales at the Trump SoHo hotel-condominium in Lower Manhattan.

Indeed, according Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group abbreviated CREW, as of November 2022, Trump had been accused of committing at least 56 criminal offenses since he launched his campaign in 2015, not including allegations of fraudulent business dealings. But he has never been formally indicted.

Trump is a master of delay tactics, “finding ways to endlessly delay in the hopes that the investigation and litigation will go away. And he’s had remarkable success,” says CREW president Noah Bookbinder, a former federal corruption prosecutor.

“It makes accountability absolutely essential because we can’t have people in a functioning democracy operating in positions of power with total impunity where they can commit crimes and never have to face any consequences,” he said.

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