Donald Trump’s impeachment trial may have ended in acquittal, but the U.S. president is hardly in the clear.
The next nine months before the 2020 presidential election are packed with landmines that can cause all manner of embarrassing headlines, adverse legal rulings and other politically risky decisions for Trump and his administration.
Watch for more House Democratic subpoenas. Watch for several big Supreme Court rulings on Trump’s power to ignore subpoenas for his financial records. And watch for growing pressure on the president to pardon former aides and advisers caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Here’s a rundown:
The Ukraine probe 2.0
The most pressing question upon Trump’s acquittal is how quickly and aggressively the House will resume its investigation of the Ukraine scandal. Already there have been mounting calls for the House to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton, who offered eyewitness testimony during the Senate trial but was never called by Republicans.
Bolton, according to reports, is preparing to publish a book accusing Trump of linking a decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine in order to pressure the country’s president to announce spurious investigations of Trump’s Democratic rivals.
Likewise, House Democrats may schedule a deposition for Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a central figure in the Ukraine matter. Parnas, who along with three colleagues is scheduled to go on trial Oct. 5 in a Manhattan federal court, has been a willing cooperator with the House’s inquiry since a judge granted him permission last month to begin sharing documents with lawmakers.
Now that the impeachment trial is in the rearview mirror, Democrats may also reconsider subpoenaing top White House aides who refused to appear voluntarily, including senior budget officials with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s intent when he withheld $391 million in military aid to Ukraine.
Democrats have also subpoenaed for documents from the State Department and other agencies and may press their case in court to obtain those files, some of which have already begun seeping out in heavily redacted FOIA responses.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 31 on three cases that could help define Trump’s presidential powers — and set precedent for future chief executives, too. Justices have agreed to hear several disputes that center on two questions: Does Trump have to comply with congressional subpoenas for his financial records? And is the president immune from state criminal investigations?
Jay Sekulow, the president’s longest-serving personal attorney, will handle the case about state-level criminal investigations. In that case, a Manhattan grand jury subpoenaed the Trump Organization and the international accounting firm Mazars for the president’s records as part of a broader investigation into financial and tax-related crimes.
In the other case, Trump lawyers will face off with House attorneys from several committees who subpoenaed the president’s financial records as part of their probes into Trump.
Trump still faces three separate lawsuits accusing Trump of illegally profiting from his hotels and other hospitality businesses
The D.C. and Maryland governments are awaiting a decision from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that alleges the president ignored clauses in the Constitution that block federal officials from collecting a salary via “emoluments” originating from foreign countries. All 15 members of the Richmond-based court heard oral arguments on the case in December.
Another case on appeal at the D.C. Circuit Court comes from more than 200 Democratic lawmakers who have sought the right to review any foreign government payments, benefits or gifts to the president.
And a third case out of New York involves a government watchdog group and a collection of hotel and restaurant owners suing Trump on the grounds they have lost business because customers go to the president’s Washington hotel to curry his favor. The Justice Department has asked the 2nd Circuit to reconsider its decision from last fall reinstating the case, which had initially been tossed by a federal district court judge.
Ultimately, all three cases may find their way to the Supreme Court.
The special counsel’s probe may have ended back in March 2019, but it lives on in a series of legal battles.
Two different federal appeals court panels in Washington, D.C., will soon be issuing decisions on the House Democrats’ bid for access to Mueller’s grand jury secrets and its attempt to question Don McGahn, the former Trump White House counsel. If the Democrats win in those cases, it raises the prospect that they may gain access to new information that could fuel additional impeachment proceedings against the president.
In the Mueller case, Democrats are still trying to see hundreds of blacked-out redactions, transcripts and exhibits that underlie the special counsel’s final report. Democrats say they are entitled to see the special counsel’s evidence because of their impeachment probe.
In the McGahn case, Democrats want to question the former top White House aide about the 30 hours he met with the special counsel’s team to describe the president’s repeated attempts to thwart and sidetrack the Mueller probe.
Appeals in both cases from the losers are all but certain, and each could still face fast-track Supreme Court review. Further legal battles are also likely over precisely what questions McGahn would be forced to answer about his time in the White House.
Another active Mueller-era dispute on track for an April trial in D.C. involves a Russian firm charged with interfering in the 2016 presidential election. The firm, Concord Management and Consulting, has pleaded not guilty to charges that it financed and organized an online troll farm army that sowed discord in the U.S. and helped Trump during the 2016 race.
In London, upcoming extradition hearings for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could also draw renewed attention to claims of Russian efforts to swing the 2016 election to Trump. Assange is fighting U.S. efforts to put him on trial on an 18-count indictment charging him with conspiring to hack into military computers, steal U.S. defense secrets and publish them online.
The current case doesn’t relate to U.S. intelligence agencies’ claims that Assange played a key role in Russia’s efforts to intervene in the last presidential race. But his lawyers are expected to argue that the criminal charges against him are politically motivated . That could lead to a very public tug-of-war with new evidence about Assange’s role in 2016, his antipathy for Hillary Clinton and his willingness to cooperate with Trump backers.
Even if Assange loses his extradition fight, though, it’s unclear whether he would land on U.S. soil before Election Day.
Another election-year hot potato is waiting for Trump: pardons.
Roger Stone, the president’s longtime associate, is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 20 for his conviction on seven federal counts of lying to investigators, obstructing a congressional probe and witness tampering. Stone’s family and allies have been pleading for a pardon to spare the GOP operative, whose crimes carry a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.
Another big court hearing looms on Feb. 27. That’s the scheduled sentencing date for former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty more than two years during the Mueller probe to a felony false statement charge.
But Flynn recently tried to withdraw his guilty plea, accusing the special counsel’s team, the FBI and his own former lawyers of misconduct. The remarkable reversal for Flynn has created significant uncertainty around his sentencing. Federal prosecutors have said probation would be “appropriate” for Flynn, though they’ve also endorsed the sentencing guidelines of zero to six months in prison.
Any punishment for Flynn will increase the calls for Trump to spare his ex-aide. The president has repeatedly offered sympathy for Flynn and last year praised his decision to hire a combative new lawyer known for her cable TV criticism of Mueller and the FBI.