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With mounting legal challenges, what are the potential consequences for Trump?

A top Democrat in the House of Representatives sued former President Trump Tuesday for allegedly inciting the Capitol insurrection, adding to his growing legal challenges. But what conduct is still being looked at and what consequences may result? WNYC's Andrea Bernstein, who has been reporting on Trump's finances as part of the "Trump Inc." project, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The new lawsuit we reported earlier against former President Trump over the Capitol riot adds to his legal challenges now that he's out of office.

    For the most part, they are state criminal and civil investigations, or lawsuits like the one today filed by private parties. But what conduct is still being looked at? And what, if any, consequences may result?

    Andrea Bernstein of public radio station WNYC has been reporting on Trump finances as part of their "Trump, Inc." project.

    And, Andrea Bernstein, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    My first question, now that Donald Trump is out of office, is he in more legal trouble or less?

  • Andrea Bernstein:

    Well, he's certainly in a lot of legal trouble.

    I mean, we do know in the impeachment trial that the argument was he couldn't be convicted because he was out of office. But that's the only case that I know of where it's better for him to have not been president.

    He has been arguing to great effect in the last several years that for various reasons, under Article 2, in his argument, he couldn't be in some cases even investigated because of the presidency. He also used the power of his own Justice Department in many cases to file briefs, along with his private business interests.

    And in one case, he argued that the Justice Department was able to defend him in a private defamation suit brought by a former gossip columnist.

    So, now Trump as a private citizen has to defend himself, as private citizens do. Now, while that may sound like justice may be more quickly delivered, when he was a private businessman, he was so notoriously litigious, that cases went on, some cases, for over a decade.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And there are now — I mean, we looked today with you, and there are now so many legal actions surrounding the former president, that it's hard to keep track of all of them.

    But you were telling us that it's the criminal investigations that may be most serious. Explain what those are about.

  • Andrea Bernstein:

    Well, President Trump and, before that, businessman Donald Trump has been involved in thousands, literally thousands of lawsuits. But he has never been criminally charged.

    What he now faces in at least two jurisdictions that we know of are criminal charges. The most far along is the Manhattan district attorney's investigation, which has not resulted in an indictment, because Donald Trump has effectively gone to the Supreme Court twice to prevent the Manhattan DA from getting his tax returns.

    But if that case is resolved, as it's expected to be, the Manhattan district attorney is looking at possibly indicting Donald Trump for bank fraud, insurance fraud, and tax fraud.

    Now, we don't know if he is — has enough evidence, if he wants to indict the president or his business or his associates, but the DA has said on the record that he is very seriously considering bringing charges. And the fact that this case has been going on for so long is further indication of the seriousness with which the district attorney is taking it.

    The second criminal investigation is much more recent. And this is in Fulton County, Georgia, where the district attorney there is looking at whether President Trump, then President Trump, violated racketeering and other statutes, when he tried to overturn the election in Georgia.

    And that case, while much more recent, is in theory, less complex than the white-collar crimes that the Manhattan district attorney's looking at. So, either of those cases could result in charges sometime in the not-too-distant future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then you mentioned, Andrea Bernstein, the number of civil lawsuits. And then there are — the personal filing today, the NAACP, on behalf of several members of Congress, including Bennie Thompson.

    Tell us about the course that something like that could take.

  • Andrea Bernstein:

    Well, this is a very interesting case, because it's using a statute that dates back to the 19th century, which was basically to use as a private weapon against the Ku Klux Klan, by lawmakers who weren't allowed to carry out their official duties.

    And while a case like this can't result in jail time, what can happen is that, through the discovery process and through depositions and possibly even a trial, we learn a whole lot of information that we don't know.

    And in these civil litigation cases, the parties, the private parties can use the power of the court system to bring forth information which can otherwise remain hidden. And we saw many, many questions left after the impeachment trial.

    So, this would be an example of the kind of private litigation that could ferret out information that would not only potentially give the plaintiffs the relief they seek, but also give a lot more information for us as journalists and also for the history books about what actually happened leading up to the insurrection on January 6.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it possible to say what the odds are that former President Trump could end up through one of these verdicts, one of these decisions in prison?

  • Andrea Bernstein:

    It's so hard to say because there haven't even been any charges brought.

    But we do know, for example, in Manhattan that the district attorney is looking at some conspiracy fraud charges, which are B felonies, carry up to 25 years in prison time in New York. So, it's very, very serious.

    And because this investigation has been going on for two years, the suggestion is, the district attorney really believes that he has evidence that crimes were committed. And when he gets all the documents he is seeking, that is when we might know what kind of charges the president or his business or his associates are facing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, so many to keep track of, the defamation lawsuit…

  • Andrea Bernstein:

    So many.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … we know, from E. Jean Carroll, who had accused the president of rape, and then he — she says he defamed her.

    Then you have the hush money cases. But we don't have time to get to all of them.

    But we thank you, Andrea Bernstein, for keeping track of all of this. Thank you very much. Good to see you again.

  • Andrea Bernstein:

    Thank you. It's always great to talk to you.

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