It was a nightmare day for Donald Trump in court. Again.
The former president has had no shortage of legal and political setbacks since leaving the White House. But in recent weeks, the sheer volume of acute threats — both criminal and civil — have put Trump in a vise unlike any he’s faced before.
On Tuesday, those threats expanded. The Supreme Court put years of Trump’s tax returns in the hands of House Democrats, and a three-judge appeals court panel — which included two of Trump’s own appointees — appeared poised to rule resoundingly in favor of the Justice Department, in a case involving its seizure of documents from Mar-a-Lago.
Trump has not been convicted of any crimes and professes his innocence and victimhood in all matters. But as he mounts his third bid for the presidency, the squeeze being put on him by prosecutors and legal adversaries casts an increasingly ominous shadow. Among them:
Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel — public corruption prosecutor Jack Smith — to oversee the Mar-a-Lago probe, as well as matters arising from Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election and prevent the transfer of power to Joe BIden. The Jan. 6 select committee is preparing to unload a massive report and 1,000 witness transcripts that could provide more explosive evidence about Trump’s attempt to subvert the 2020 election, and fuel DOJ’s ongoing criminal probe of the matter. Trump’s business empire has been placed under the watch of monitor Barbara Jones, a consequence of New York Attorney General Tish James’ lawsuit alleging widespread fraud by Trump, his businesses, and family members. An Atlanta-area district attorney has reached deeply into Trump’s inner circle to obtain testimony about Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday became the latest witness to provide substantive testimony to the special grand jury.
This week’s mounting legal headaches come as Trump continues to fend off political foes and chart out his place in an evolving social media landscape. For now, Trump has decided to stay on his own media platform, despite an invitation from Twitter owner Elon Musk to allow Trump back on the site. But even that was complicated by troubles. The delayed merger between Trump’s own social media venture and a blank check company that would take it public brought renewed concerns about potential securities violations that would give political opponents additional fodder and give way to more investigations.
Trump is no stranger to legal binds and predictions of imminent doom. His political obituary was written amid the probes launched by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in 2017, as well as an ensuing impeachment inquiry into his effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. It’s led to a perverse mentality — the more under siege Trump seems, the more animated his base becomes and the more he dominates the political conversation, crowding out potential rivals.
It’s a dynamic Trump and his team is acutely aware of, and one that served as a rallying cry during Trump’s 2024 presidential announcement at Mar-a-Lago last week.
“It’s unbelievable that Democrats have been trying to get his tax records ever since he announced in 2016,” a person close to Trump said. “If they can do that to him, imagine what 87,000 new IRS agents can do to everyday Americans.”
But Trump is now bereft of his most potent defense: the office of the presidency itself, which provided protections and procedural roadblocks for investigators that are no longer at his disposal. Instead, courts have rejected his efforts to assert executive privilege in ways he was able to while in office and shot down his and his allies’ repeated efforts to stymie criminal and congressional investigators.
And the limits of Trump’s post-presidential pull were apparent in this month’s midterm elections, when predictions of a “red tsunami” were met with Democratic resilience in a number of seats once thought to be within Republicans’ grasp.
Despite the disappointing results, the ex-president plowed ahead with making his presidential announcement, in part as a way to help protect him from those legal investigations he faces. Multiple people familiar with his announcement plans said he felt strongly about sending a message of strength by not delaying it, even though top party officials asked him to hold off until after the Georgia Senate runoff election in December. There was a belief that he would effectively freeze the field and potentially shield himself legally.
There were political benefits as well. Trump’s team saw a spike in fundraising and popularity after the search of Mar-a-lago in August, and the former president has found sympathy with certain voters who view him as a political victim.
As the legal dominoes fell on Tuesday, people close to Trump were touting his strength in early 2024 primary polls and his campaign promoted articles that questioned the integrity of the special counsel.
“It makes him look like a political fighter. He is the master of framing,” said a Republican strategist close to Trump’s team. “And he wants to be a political martyr.”
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