Trump legal news brief: Trump ordered to pay $355 million, barred from running New York businesses for fraudulently inflating net worth

A New York judge orders former President Donald Trump to pay $355 million dollars and cease running any businesses in the state for three years as punishment for fraudulently inflating his net worth to obtain favorable treatment from banks and other lenders. In Georgia, a divorce lawyer for lead prosecutor Nathan Wade is among several witnesses to testify at a hearing seeking to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the election interference case brought against Trump and 18 others. Here are the latest legal developments involving the Republican frontrunner seeking to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

New York financial fraud

Judge orders to pay $355 million dollars and cease running businesses in the state for three years as punishment for fraudulently inflating his net worth

Key players: New York Attorney General Letitia James, Judge Arthur Engoron

The crushing penalty — which may top $400 million once interest is factored in — could cost Trump all of his available cash. But because most of his wealth is tied up in real estate, it would not leave him bankrupt.

Trump has 30 days to either come up with the money or secure a bond. He is expected to appeal. In addition, Trump will likely ask an appeals court to halt the ban on him serving in a lead role at any New York company, including his own, while it considers the case.

The court also banned Trump’s two adult sons from serving in a similar capacity for two years and fined them $4 million each. It is unclear who can run the family business in the near future.

James had sought repayment of $370 million worth of “ill-gotten gains” from Trump and his co-defendants in the financial fraud civil trial — money, James wrote in a filing, that the “defendants reaped… through their unlawful conduct.”

State lawyers alleged that Trump exaggerated his wealth by as much as $3.6 billion in a single year.

Engoron had already ruled that Trump and the other defendants were liable for years of fraudulent practices, including inflated asset valuation, that helped them obtain favorable loan and insurance rates. The point of the trial was in part to determine penalties for that fraud.

Though Trump’s bankers testified that they were happy to have him as a client, Trump’s conduct nonetheless “distort[ed] the market,” a lawyer from James’s office said during closing arguments. “It prices out honest borrowers and can lead to more catastrophic results. … That’s why it’s important for the court to take the steps to protect the marketplace to prevent this from happening again.”

Because this was a civil trial, Trump was not facing prison time.

Why it matters: Engoron's harsh punishment will hit Trump where it hurts — in the pocketbook and in public perceptions of his business acumen. But a drawn-out appeals process could dull any immediate effect.

Georgia election interference

Wade’s divorce lawyer refuses to divulge details of Wade’s relationship with Willis, citing attorney-client privilege

Key players: Judge Scott McAfee, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, lead prosecutor Nathan Wade, Trump co-defendant Michael Roman's lawyer Ashleigh Merchant, Trump lawyer Steve Sadow, Wade divorce lawyer Terrence Bradley

A day after Willis took the stand and vehemently denied that her romantic relationship with Wade constituted a conflict of interest that should disqualify her from overseeing the election interference case against Trump and his co-defendants, several other witnesses appeared in court to answer questions about the relationship.

Lawyers for Trump and his co-defendants contend that Willis and Wade’s relationship started before Willis hired Wade as her lead prosecutor — and that by taking trips together and letting Wade foot the bill, Willis profited financially from the arrangement.

Willis and Wade claim their intimate relationship did not begin until after Willis hired Wade, and that Willis paid Wade back in cash.

On Friday, Terrence Bradley, a lawyer who once worked in Wade’s law firm and served as his divorce lawyer, was called to testify by lawyers for Trump and his co-defendants about the timing of Willis and Wade’s relationship.

Despite elaborate efforts by Merchant and Sadow to force Bradley to divulge his “personal knowledge” of the affair, Bradley claimed attorney-client privilege and said little.

Merchant previously alleged that Bradley had learned about Wade and Willis's relationship "directly from Wade when Wade was not seeking legal advice from Bradley,"and that the information was obtained "in a personal capacity as Wade's friend prior to Wade's decision to file for divorce."

Willis’s father John Floyd testified that he only learned about Willis’s relationship with Wade “when other folks found out” and that his daughter has been subject to abuse — people “cursing and yelling” the “b-word” and the “n-word” outside her house — because she is prosecuting Trump, cutting against the argument that Willis is pursuing the case to enrich herself.

Former one-term Gov. Roy Barnes, a moderate Democrat and a prominent Georgia lawyer, testified that he turned down the job that eventually went to Wade because of the low pay and the explosive politics. “I have mouths to feed at a law office,” Barnes said. And “I wasn’t going to live with bodyguards for the rest of my life.”

Earlier this week, McAfee said the allegations against Willis could lead to her removal from the case. He is not expected to rule immediately.

Why it matters: If McAfee disqualifies Willis or Wade, it could delay or even derail the case against Trump and his co-defendants.

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Thursday, February 15

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A combative Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis takes the witness stand in a Georgia courtroom at a hearing seeking to disqualify her from the election interference case brought against former President Trump and 18 others. In New York, Judge Juan Merchan denies former President Donald Trump’s request to dismiss charges in a New York criminal case alleging he paid off two women to keep them from disclosing alleged extramarital affairs in the runup to the 2016 presidential election. The judge says the trial will begin on March 25, making it the first time in U.S. history that a former president will face criminal charges in a court of law. Here are the latest developments in the legal cases facing the man who is hoping for a return to the White House in 2024.

Georgia election interference

Willis offers defiant testimony at hearing seeking her removal from Trump case

Key players: Judge Scott McAfee, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, lead prosecutor Nathan Wade, Trump co-defendant Michael Roman's lawyer Ashleigh Merchant, Trump lawyer Steve Sadow, co-defendant Jeffrey Clark's lawyer Harry MacDougald, co-defendant David Shafer's lawyer Craig Gillen, former Willis friend Robin Bryant-Yeartie

Willis took the witness stand Thursday and vehemently denied that her romantic relationship with Wade constituted a conflict of interest that should disqualify her from overseeing the election interference case against Trump and his co-defendants, ABC News reported.

Willis sparred with lawyers for co-defendants Roman, Trump, Shafer and Clark, claiming that she did not accept gifts from Wade in the form of travel during their romantic relationship.

"I don't need anything from a man," Willis said at one point, adding, "A man is not a plan. A man is a companion."

Defense lawyers relentlessly questioned Willis about whether she told any of her professional colleagues that she was romantically involved with Wade and whether they co-habitated.

“It is a lie!” Willis said about Merchant’s filing claiming that Wade had lived with the Fulton County DA.

“It’s like a woman doesn’t have the right to keep her private life private,” she responded at another point.

Willis contended that her physical relationship with Wade began after she hired him in November 2021 to lead the investigation of Trump and his co-defendants and ended before she indicted Trump in August 2023 on election interference and state RICO violations.

"I’m not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial,” she shot back in an exchange with Merchant.

After a heated back-and-forth about whether Wade had visited Willis at her home in South Fulton in 2019 and 2020, the judge cautioned Willis about keeping answers limited to addressing the specific questions.

Bryant-Yeartie testified Thursday that the romantic relationship between Willis and Wade, who Willis hired as the lead prosecutor in the election interference case against Trump and 18 others, began in 2019, Business Insider reported.

Bryant-Yeartie said she witnessed “hugging, kissing, just affection” between the couple.

That contradicts claims made to McAfee that the relationship began in 2022, after Willis had hired her.

Merchant alleges the relationship represents a conflict of interest because the two took leisure trips together and that both Willis and Wade should be disqualified from the case.

Wade testified Thursday that he and Willis traveled to Aruba together and that he paid for the trip using his business credit card, but that Willis reimbursed him in cash.

Bryant-Yeartie testified that she worked for Willis, but the two had a falling out, leading her to resign in 2022.

Prior to Thursday’s hearing, McAfee said the allegations against Willis could lead to her removal from the case.

Why it matters: If McAfee disqualifies Willis or Wade, it could prove a fatal blow to the case brought against Trump and his co-defendants.

New York hush money

Judge rejects Trump’s motion to dismiss hush money case, sets March 25 start date for trial

Key players: Justice Juan Merchan, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche, adult film star Stormy Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

Merchan denied Trump's motion to dismiss the charges in the hush money case brought by Bragg and said the trial would begin on March 25, making Trump the first former president scheduled to face criminal charges in a court of law, the Associated Press reported.

The judge noted that Trump’s federal trial on election interference had been postponed, clearing space in the calendar for the hush money case to proceed. Merchan had previously denied a Trump motion seeking to delay the start of the hush money trial that cited the start of the election interference case.

“I’m glad I took that position because here we are — the D.C. case did not go forward,” he said Thursday.

In response to Merchan’s decision, Blanche said Trump’s lawyers “strenuously object to what is happening in this courtroom,” adding, “The fact that ... President Trump is now going to spend the next two months working on this trial instead of out on the campaign trail running for president is something that should not happen in this country.”

Trump is accused of paying off both Daniels and McDougal to buy their silence regarding alleged sexual affairs with the billionaire ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Merchan said the trial is expected to take six weeks, meaning that a verdict could come as early as the beginning of May.

Why it matters: Numerous polls have shown that if Trump was convicted by a jury of a crime, his support from voters would diminish.

Recommended reading

AFP: The legal woes of Donald Trump

Bloomberg:Supreme Court urged to reject Trump immunity, allow D.C. trial

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Wednesday, February 14

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On Thursday, two courtroom hearings could radically alter the legal landscape for former President Donald Trump. In Georgia, a two-day televised hearing will decide whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and lead prosecutor Nathan Wade should be disqualified from handling the election interference case against Trump and his co-defendants. In New York, Trump is asking Judge Juan Merchan to dismiss the hush money case brought against him by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Here are the latest developments in the legal cases involving the former president, who is hoping to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

Georgia election interference

Judge agrees to hold hearings on Willis that ‘could result in disqualification’

Key players: Judge Scott McAfee, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, lead prosecutor Nathan Wade, Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, Roman's lawyer Ashleigh Merchant

A two-day televised hearing beginning Thursday will examine allegations that Willis benefited financially from her relationship with Wade, who she hired to lead the prosecution of Trump and 18 others charged in connection with their efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia, USA Today reported.

During an emergency hearing on Monday, McAfee said that if Merchant could establish that the relationship between Willis and Wade represented a clear conflict of interest, the hearing “could result in disqualification” of both from the case.

Trump has signed on to Roman’s request to have the charges brought by Willis dismissed.

While Willis and Wade have conceded in court filings that they have engaged in a “personal relationship,” they claim it began after Willis hired Wade and that it has no bearing on the charges filed against the defendants.

Why it matters: Were Willis and, to a lesser extent, Wade to be disqualified from participating in the prosecution of Trump and his co-defendants, most legal experts believe that would prove a fatal blow to the sprawling case. Because the criminal charges in Georgia are being brought in state court, Trump, if he is reelected in 2024, could not simply tell his Justice Department to end the trial.

New York hush money

Judge to hear Trump’s motion to dismiss charges against him

Key players: Judge Juan Merchan, adult film star Stormy Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

On Thursday, Merchan will hear arguments on a Trump motion to dismiss the criminal charges that he falsified business records when he allegedly paid Daniels and McDougal to bury stories of alleged extramarital affairs with Trump that could have damaged his chances of being elected president in 2016, the Associated Press reported.

Trump plans to attend the long-shot hearing.

Cohen, one of Bragg’s star witnesses, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the National Enquirer to pay McDougal $150,000 in return for their silence, he claims.

Trump then repaid Cohen, bank records show.

Bragg has also charged Trump with violating campaign finance laws.

Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Even if he is convicted by a jury in this trial, Trump is unlikely to be sentenced to prison time.

The trial is scheduled to begin on March 25, making it the likely first of four criminal cases against Trump to play out in court.

Why it matters: If the case moves forward, Trump will be obliged to sit in the courtroom for the duration of the trial, which would take place as the Republican presidential primary plays out.

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Tuesday, February 13

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The United States Supreme Court gives government prosecutors on Jack Smith’s team until Feb. 20 to respond to Trump’s appeal to pause the U.S. Court of Appeals decision that presidential immunity does not protect Trump from being prosecuted over his attempts to overturn his election loss to Joe Biden. Ahead of a final ruling by Judge Arthur Engoron in Trump’s $370 million civil fraud trial, Rep. Elise Stefanik, of New York, filed a complaint against New York Attorney General Letitia James, accusing her of “conducting a biased investigation and prosecution” of Trump. Here are the latest legal developments facing the former president, who is hoping to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

Jan. 6 election interference

Key players: Special counsel Jack Smith, U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge Tanya Chutkan

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court gave Smith's team one week to respond to Trump's request to keep his federal election interference on hold until his appeals play out on the question of whether presidential immunity protects him from being prosecuted, The Hill reported.

On Monday, Trump’s lawyers asked the court to pause the court of appeals ruling that presidential immunity did not shield Trump from being prosecuted for his attempts to try to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.

In a unanimous decision released last week, the three-judge appeals court panel issued its ruling but gave Trump a week to appeal it before sending the case back to Chutkan.

Trump said in his filing with the Supreme Court that he would request that the full, 11-member appeals court review the panel’s decision. Whatever the full appeals court decides to do, Trump could also appeal that to the high court.

Smith is not required to wait until Feb. 20 to file his response to Trump’s request for a further delay, but the high court has so far shown little urgency on the timeline for the case that was originally scheduled to begin on March 4.

In December, the Supreme Court rejected Smith's request to fast-track an appeal of Chutkan's ruling that Trump was not protected by presidential immunity in the election inference case.

Why it matters: From the start, Trump's legal strategy in the civil and criminal cases against him has been to try to have them either dismissed outright or delayed until after the 2024 election. If that were to happen in the federal criminal cases and Trump were to win reelection, he could either seek to preemptively pardon himself or direct the Department of Justice to drop their prosecutions of him.

New York financial fraud

Rep. Stefanik files complaint against New York attorney general

Key players: Judge Arthur Engoron, Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Attorney General Letitia James, New York Committee on Professional Standards

As the judge in Trump's $370 million civil fraud trial prepares to release his ruling on the amount the former president, his adult sons and his family business must pay in fines for years of fraudulent business practices, Stefanik filed a complaint against James with the Committee on Professional Standards, NBC News reported.

In the complaint, Stefanik alleges that James has been "conducting a biased investigation and prosecution" against Trump.

Trump is reportedly considering Stefanik as a running mate in the 2024 election.

Stefanik has already filed similar complaints against Engoron and against U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, who has handled numerous Jan. 6 cases.

Why it matters: Engoron is poised to deliver a judgment against Trump that could cost the former president hundreds of millions and limit his company's ability to do business in New York.

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Monday, February 12

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Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers file a last-ditch appeal with the United States Supreme Court on the question of whether presidential immunity protects him from being prosecuted for alleged crimes he committed when he tried to overturn his loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Here are the latest legal developments surrounding the former president who is hoping to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

Jan. 6 election interference

Trump files appeal with Supreme Court on question of presidential immunity

Key players: U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge Tanya Chutkan, special counsel Jack Smith

As expected, lawyers for Trump filed an appeal Monday with the Supreme Court, asking them to delay a lower court's ruling that presidential immunity does not protect him from being prosecuted by Smith for his attempts to overturn the results of his 2020 election loss to Biden, CBS News reported.

"President Trump’s claim that Presidents have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for their official acts presents a novel, complex, and momentous question that warrants careful consideration on appeal," Trump’s lawyers wrote.

In their notice of appeal, Trump’s lawyers said that if the high court allowed presidents to be prosecuted for crimes, that such cases would become commonplace.

Trump's lawyers are asking the Supreme Court to pause the lower court's ruling so that the full U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals can review the issue.

Smith has charged Trump with four felony counts in the election interference case, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct Congress.

The Supreme Court is the last option for Trump’s lawyers to seek to try to stop the case from going to trial.

Last week, the Court of Appeals ruled that being president did not protect Trump from being prosecuted by Smith and that his efforts to overturn the election were not part of his official duties.

The appeals court gave Trump until Monday, Feb. 12, to appeal the decision to the high court.

Why it matters: Given the meticulously written decision by three-judge Court of Appeals panel, the Supreme Court could decide that it will not take up Trump's request for a pause in the case. If the high court does accept the case, it could either end up sparing him from facing prosecution altogether or delay the start of the trial until after the 2024 election.

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