Former President Donald Trump was 0-3 in three high-profile legal battles this week, with new rulings that boosted significant cases his opponents have brought against him.
Perhaps the most significant of all the courtroom defeats suffered recently by Trump was a judge’s refusal Friday to dismiss several civil lawsuits filed against him for his alleged role in the January 6 US Capitol attack.
In the 112-page opinion, US District Judge Amit Mehta said that Trump could face trial for his conduct around last year’s insurrection.
The ruling was a kicker to a week when attorneys general in Washington, DC, and New York secured victories in their efforts to gather evidence as to whether his businesses broke the law. While Trump continues to wield significant political loyalty and could well be the Republicans’ 2024 presidential nominee, the legal turmoil surrounding him shows no signs of slowing.
Exposure for his business
Trump’s case for his 2020 election rested on the image created around his supposed business savvy. Now his company is a major source of the legal problems facing the former President.
The week started with a DC Superior Court judge reinstating the Trump Organization as a defendant in DC Attorney General Karl Racine’s lawsuit alleging that funds for the 2017 inauguration were misused. After reversing on Monday a prior decision that had dismissed the company from the case, Judge Yvonne Williams also said on Thursday that Racine’s office could question the company’s ex-Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg in a limited deposition.
Racine alleges that inaugural funds were used to pay off a debt incurred by a hotel room block reserved for Trump Organization employees. He is seeking to recover the nearly $1.1 million that he claims was improperly spent during the inauguration, in violation of DC non-profit law.
Ordered to testify in New York AG’s investigation
As Williams was setting a September trial date in Racine’s case, a judge more than 200 miles away was hearing Trump’s arguments for why he should quash subpoenas in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation into the Trump Organization’s business practices, arguments the judge would ultimately reject.
James is investigating whether Trump’s company misled insurers, lenders and others who relied on its financial statements. Hours after a contentious hearing on Thursday morning, New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron ordered Trump, as well as his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., to sit for testimony in her civil probe.
The Trumps have signaled they will appeal the order, but if those appeals fail, they could be sitting for depositions in the coming weeks.
Dumped by accountant
In the lead-up to Thursday’s hearing, James also revealed, via a Monday evening court filing, that Trump’s accounting firm had recently told him that the last 10 years of financial statements the firm prepared for him could no longer be relied upon.
The firm put Trump on notice that other parties that have been relying on the financial materials assembled by Mazars should be made aware that those financial statements are not reliable.
“This is about as calamitous a thing that could happen to a business that you can imagine – other than getting indicted or going bankrupt,” George Conway, conservative lawyer and outspoken Trump critic, told CNN’s “AC360” on Monday evening. “And this could lead to going bankrupt.”
The Trump Organization tried to spin the firm’s statement as a reason that James’ investigation should be considered moot.
Engoron called that reasoning “audacious as it is preposterous.”
Liability for January 6
Trump is no stranger to litigation around his business. But Friday’s ruling allowing three January 6 civil lawsuits filed against him to move forward said his remarks ahead of the assault presented a “one-of-a-kind” case, the judge said, where the First Amendment would not shield him from liability.
“The President’s January 6 Rally Speech can reasonably be viewed as a call for collective action,” Mehta wrote in his 112-page opinion, adding that the statements were “the essence of civil conspiracy”
Mehta’s decision means that Trump could eventually find himself at the defense table at a trial.
Mehta rejected Trump’s request that he dismiss two lawsuits brought by Democratic House members, and a third by Capitol Police officers. The plaintiffs are seeking damages for his alleged role in the violence of that day.
While Mehta dismissed other defendants from the cases, he said that it could be plausibly shown that Trump entered into a conspiracy with far-right groups to violently disrupt the certification of the 2020 election results. The judge also rejected Trump’s arguments that, as an incumbent president at the time, he is protected by an absolute immunity.
“To deny a President immunity from civil damages is no small step. The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent,” Mehta wrote.
Trump is expected to appeal the decision.