Inside Donald Trump's Ongoing Legal Battles — and Whether Any Could Stop Him from Becoming President
President Barack Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton have both called for a “peaceful transition of power” to president-elect Donald Trump. But as Democratic voters and #NeverTrumpers struggle to come to terms with the stunning upset, some are still wondering: Is there anything that could stop Trump from taking the White House?
Let’s start with the legal battles the president-elect has become entangled in.
The Trump University Fraud Trial
Just weeks before Trump is set to be sworn in as America’s next commander in chief, he’s due in court on Nov. 28 to defend himself against allegations of fraud in a federal civil trial over the Trump University real estate seminar program.
According to Politico, Trump has been called as a witness by both sides in the trial that will reunite him with U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Trump faced bipartisan backlash after he said during his campaign that Judge Curiel should recuse himself from the case because his “Mexican heritage” was a “conflict of interest.” (Curiel was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants.)
In a previous statement on the case, Trump said his comments about Curiel had been “misconstrued,” saying, “I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial.” He added: “Throughout the litigation my attorneys have continually demonstrated that students who participated in Trump University were provided a substantive, valuable education based upon a curriculum developed by professors from Northwestern University, Columbia Business School, Stanford University and other respected institutions.”
“This is an extremely unusual situation,” Stephen Kaufman, an attorney specializing in political and election law, told Bloomberg of the case. “Certainly no presidential candidate in modern times has potentially come to the Office of President with such a litigation cloud hanging over his head.”
Kaufman said that while, as president, Trump would have some immunity from lawsuits, it wouldn’t cover suits filed against him before his election.
“Taking the office would not protect Mr. Trump from lawsuits that have been filed against him already or lawsuits that could be filed against him for civil matters that arose before he became President,” said Kaufman. “Having said that, there would be a mountain of logistical issues in trying to pursue a civil claim against a President.”
As for whether the case could affect Trump’s presidency, University of Utah Law Professor Christopher Lewis Peterson wrote an article arguing that there is already enough evidence in the fraud case for Congress to impeach Trump.
He wrote, “A federal judge appointed under Article III of the U.S. Constitution has already determined that Trump’s alleged actions, if true, constitute fraud and racketeering … Congress would be well within its legal rights under the Constitution to insist upon a President who is not a fraudster or a racketeer as defined in its own law.”
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The New York Attorney General’s Investigation of the Donald J. Trump Foundation
Last month, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office ordered Trump’s charitable foundation to stop fundraising immediately, accusing the Donald J. Trump Foundation of violating state law. Schneiderman alleged in a cease and desist letter that the foundation solicited contributions in 2016 without being properly registered to do so with the attorney general’s charities bureau. That investigation is ongoing.
Trump’s campaign spokeswoman said in statement last month, “While we remain very concerned about the political motives behind A.G. Schneiderman’s investigation, the Trump Foundation nevertheless intends to cooperate fully with the investigation. Because this is an ongoing legal matter, the Trump Foundation will not comment further at this time.”
Schneiderman also filed a fraud lawsuit against Trump University in August 2013. Trump has denied any wrongdoing in this case.
In a dramatic development, the woman who alleged in a federal lawsuit that Trump raped her in the 1990s when she was 13 years old dropped the suit in the final days of the election. The accuser, named in the lawsuit as “Jane Doe,” was set to come forward with her allegations for the first time at a press conference in Los Angeles last week. Her lawyer canceled the conference at the last minute, however, saying her client was too afraid to appear after receiving death threats.
Alan Garten, vice president and general counsel for the Trump Organization, did not return a call for comment to PEOPLE last week. But Garten has repeatedly and vehemently denied the allegations, telling the New York Daily News they were “categorically untrue, completely fabricated and politically motivated.”
Could Any of These Legal Battles Delay or Stop Trump from Taking Office?
GOP consultant Jean Card, a former Bush administration official whose analysis appears on U.S. News, told PEOPLE it’s unlikely these legal troubles would hinder Trump from the presidency.
“I’m not an attorney, but if there were any way Trump could be stopped, Hillary Clinton would not have conceded and Barack Obama would not have talked to the nation today about the peaceful transfer of power,” she said. “The stories about his legal troubles won’t change what happens on Jan. 20th: a Trump inauguration.”