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Trump faces legal and political headwinds as he considers return

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CONROE, Texas (AP) — 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 matter-of-factly, before starting his workout.

The quip — a moment of levity 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 reckless, emboldened by a sense of invincibility that has allowed him to recover from devastating turns, including two impeachments, that would have ended the careers of other politicians. . He goes ahead and continues to tease a return to the presidency.

“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. He will hold another campaign-style rally in Texas on Saturday ahead of the March 1 state election that officially kicks off the midterm primary season.

Representatives for Trump did not respond to requests for comment on the surveys or polls. In interviews and appearances, mostly in right-wing media, he often brags about his support record as he aims to reward candidates who pledge loyalty to his party vision and repeat his campaign lies.

But his efforts to freeze the field of 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 seen as another contender for the nomination and recently drew attention 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 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 politically motivated “witch hunts” 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 doubling up. That’s what we do in TrumpWorld, we double down. And you just pretend it’s a witch hunt, you pretend it’s political theater. And that’s how you keep your supporters donating money and believing they’re on the right side.

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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