Trump faces legal and political headwinds as he considers return

CONROE, Texas — While preparing to play at one of his golf courses in Florida, another player introduced Donald Trump as the “45th President of the United States.”

“45th and 47th,” Trump replied evenly, before pressing his disc.

The quip — a light-hearted moment on Links captured on shaky cellphone video — was a reminder that the former president often has another presidential race on his mind. But the statement belied the growing challenges he faces as a series of complex legal investigations ensnare Trump, his family and many associates.

The investigations, which are taking place in multiple jurisdictions and take into account everything from potential fraud and election interference to the role he played in the Jan. 6 insurrection, pose the most serious legal threat Trump faces. has faced decades of an often contentious public life. They are intensifying as a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has found that Trump’s iron grip on the GOP may be starting to loosen.

His popularity among Republicans is waning somewhat, with 71% saying they have a favorable view of Trump compared to 78% in a September 2020 AP-NORC/USAFacts poll. But the new poll shows a slim majority of Republicans — 56% — want that he will run for president in 2024. The poll found that 44% of Republicans do not want Trump to run.

Despite legal and political headwinds, those around Trump describe him as forward-looking and emboldened by a sense of invincibility that has allowed him to recover from devastating turns, including two impeachments, that would have ended his career. other politicians. Instead of stepping out of the spotlight, he is teasing a return to the presidency as he steps up his attacks on those investigating him and his business.

“He’s in good spirits,” said Darrell Scott, an Ohio pastor and Trump ally who met with the former president this week.

Trump huddled with top aides in Florida this week as he crafts a medium-term strategy that could serve as a springboard for future efforts. And another campaign-style rally will be held in Texas on Saturday night ahead of the March 1 state election that officially kicks off the midterm primary season.

Speaking at a county fair outside Houston, Trump sketched out the beginnings of a 2024 campaign platform, saying he would ban critical race theory – she considers American history to be through the lens of racism — classrooms, the military, and the government “on day one, hour one, if I decide to run and if we win.” And he said he would ensure those charged in connection with the deadly January 6 riot at the US Capitol are treated “fairly”.

“And if it requires pardons, we’ll give them pardons,” he said of his supporters, who stormed the building in an effort to block certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

But even though he projects a sense of inevitability that the nomination would be his if he wanted it, his efforts to freeze the field from Republicans considering the 2024 field have been spotty. Some, including former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have so far refused to oppose, giving speeches and visiting key states that suggest they are strongly considering campaigns. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is also considered another contender for the nomination and recently caught the eye when he said one of his biggest regrets as governor was not pushing back when Trump urged Americans to stay home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. to stop the spread of the virus.

As Trump tries to move forward, so do the lawsuits against him.

On Monday, Georgia judges approved a request for a special grand jury by the Fulton County prosecutor who is investigating whether Trump and others broke the law by trying to pressure Georgia officials to quash the President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said her office received information “indicating a reasonable likelihood” that the election was “subject to possible disruption criminals”.

In New York, State Attorney General Letitia James claimed in a court filing last week that her office uncovered evidence that Trump’s company used “fraudulent or misleading” appraisals of its golf clubs. , skyscrapers and other properties to secure loans and tax benefits. Although its lawyers said they had not decided to take legal action in relation to the allegations, they revealed that the company had overstated the value of land donations made in New York and California on documents submitted to the IRS and had misstated the size of Trump’s Manhattan penthouse. , among other misleading assessments.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office also worked with James’s office on a parallel criminal investigation, which resulted in charges last summer against Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, and its longtime chief financial officer. , Allen Weisselberg.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Jan. 6 Violent Insurgency Investigative Committee interviewed hundreds of witnesses, issued dozens of subpoenas and obtained tens of thousands of pages of documents, including text messages. , emails and phone records from people close to Trump, as well as thousands of pages of White House documents that Trump fought to protect from public view. Among them: a proposed executive order that proposed using Department of Defense assets to seize voting machines, said committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson.

A senior Justice Department official said this week that prosecutors are investigating fake certificates sent to the National Archives with fabricated voter lists that wrongly declared Trump the winner in seven states he lost in the contest. a desperate campaign to overthrow the will of the voters. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department remains committed to “holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at all levels, accountable under the law, whether they were present that day or otherwise be criminally responsible for the aggression against our democracy”.

As president, Trump was largely immune to legal consequences. But not anymore.

David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami, said that so far Trump’s legal troubles have largely been relegated to “money matters”, with various lawsuits seeking payouts. But he described what Trump is currently facing, particularly in Georgia and Washington, as “more important, because it comes with potential exposure to criminal sanctions.”

“If they can prove intent, knowledge, involvement in an ongoing conspiracy,” he said, “that’s potential criminal exposure, something he’s never faced before. .”

But those who worked with Trump said he and those around him would likely continue to dismiss the investigations as nothing more than a politically motivated “witch hunt” aimed at damaging his future political prospects. After spending so many years jumping from crisis to crisis, from investigating Russia to investigating everything from his Washington hotel lease to payments to a former porn star, do the investigated in TrumpWorld is the norm.

For many around him, “it’s an honor to be subpoenaed,” said Stephanie Grisham, the former White House press secretary who resigned on Jan. 6 and has since written an anti-Trump book. .

“It’s easy to say ‘It’s just another witch hunt’ because that’s what we said about everything,” she said. “People are dubbing. That’s what we do in TrumpWorld, we’re dubbing. And you just pretend it’s a witch hunt, you pretend it’s political theater. And that’s how you compel your fans to keep donating money and to keep believing they’re on the right side.”

Indeed, on Saturday night, Trump railed against investigators and insisted, “There’s never been a witch hunt or a fishing expedition like this.”

“It’s been going on since you’ve known me. It will continue as long as I’m ahead in the polls like me,” he said, adding, “In reality, they’re not after me, they’re after you. “

And, after being accused of inciting the Capitol riot, he filed a petition. “If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we have in this country the biggest protest we’ve ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere. .”

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Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.

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