Without some of the protections afforded him by the presidency, Trump will become vulnerable to multiple investigations looking into possible fraud in his financial business dealings as a private citizen -- both as an individual and through his company. He faces defamation lawsuits sparked by his denials of accusations made by women who have alleged he assaulted them, including E. Jean Carroll, the former magazine columnist who has accused him of rape. And then there are claims he corrupted the presidency for his personal profits.
As President, Trump has been able to block and delay several of these investigations and lawsuits -- including a yearlong fight over a subpoena for his tax returns -- in part because of his official position. Many of those matters have wound through the courts and will come to a head whether he is reelected or not.
But with the polls showing that Democratic rival Joe Biden is leading in the race, the stakes become much higher for Trump if he loses the election. A raft of legal issues, including a criminal investigation by New York prosecutors, will come into focus in the weeks after Election Day.
"In every regard, his leaving office makes it easier for prosecutors and plaintiffs in civil cases to pursue their cases against him," said Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor in the Manhattan US attorney's office. "For example, he is claiming a higher protection from subpoenas in the criminal cases and also in the congressional subpoena cases, [and that] is based largely on the fact that he is President."
Some have suggested a formal apparatus for investigating Trump after he leaves office. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, has floated the creation of a "Presidential Crimes Commission," made up of independent prosecutors who can examine "those who enabled a corrupt president," as he put it in an August tweet. "Example 1: Sabotaging the mail to win an election."
The most serious legal threat facing Trump is the Manhattan district attorney's broad criminal investigation into the financial workings of the Trump Organization. Prosecutors have suggested in court filings that the investigation could examine whether the President and his company engaged in bank fraud, insurance fraud, criminal tax fraud and falsification of business records.
In the course of that probe, Trump has challenged a subpoena to his accounting firm for eight years of tax returns and financial records. Five courts have ruled the subpoena is valid, and last week Trump faced the latest setback when a federal appellate court denied his appeal, ruling that the grand jury subpoena was not overly broad or issued in bad faith. On Tuesday, Trump's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to block the enforcement of the subpoena to allow it time to appeal to the court. Trump already lost an appeal to the highest court in July, when it ruled that the president is not immune from a state grand jury subpoena.
New York prosecutors have said the tax records, working papers and documentation around business transactions are crucial to their investigation, which has been underway for more than a year.
There are legal questions as to whether a state prosecutor could file charges against a sitting president.
"He's so powerful right now. They know that they can't indict him right now so there is an incentive to build their case and get ready. I think what happens if he loses and leaves office that things will move very quickly," said Jennifer Rodgers, a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.
"Maybe I'll have to leave the country. I don't know." -- Trump on what could happen if he loses to Biden pic.twitter.com/NGrXDwjaSd— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 17, 2020