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Juan Williams: Defeated Trump is in legal peril

Come January 20, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE will step out of office.

And he better watch his step.

He could end up in jail.

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No president has ever gone to jail. But Trump is pushing his luck.

His biggest risk is a guilty verdict if a case comes out of the criminal probe being led by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

Vance is looking at “extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization,” according to court documents.

The alleged criminal acts took place before Trump became president. That means Trump can’t hide behind executive privilege or a federal pardon.

“Vance ... is free to go after Trump not as a crooked president but as a common crook who happened to get elected president,” Jeff Wise recently wrote in New York Magazine.

The case centers on Trump possibly lying about his finances on official business records. That includes, allegedly, falsely describing a payment to silence a porn star as a legal expense. Proof that Trump signed off on that kind of financial deception could lead to a more serious charge — tax fraud.

If he is found guilty of tax fraud charges, there is no escaping the threat of serious jail time.

The DA has already won court approval to access Trump’s tax returns.

That could be trouble. The man who says he is a billionaire somehow paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the 15 years preceding the 2016 election, and only $750 in such taxes in 2016 and 2017, according to The New York Times.

Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenPress: Trump's biggest fear is — lock him up Biden faces politically thorny decision on Trump prosecutions New York expands Trump tax fraud investigations to include write-offs: report MORE, Trump’s former lawyer — who ended up in jail for lying — and Trump’s accountant, Allen WeisselbergAllen Howard WeisselbergJuan Williams: Defeated Trump is in legal peril New York authorities investigate the family tax records of Trump Organization's CFO: report Michael Cohen burned book manuscript to prevent leak by pro-Trump prison guards: report MORE, are both reportedly cooperating in some of the cases against him.

If he is convicted in the Vance case, Trump will have the chance to get used to a style of government housing quite different from the White House.

Then there is a second, separate tax fraud investigation spearheaded by Letitia James, the New York State Attorney General.

Even without the prospect of jail time in this case, Trump risks being hit with big fines.

James is looking into whether Trump illegally inflated the value of his assets to get loans. He may also have misled officials by lowering the value of his real estate holdings to reduce his taxes.

Eric TrumpEric Frederick TrumpLara Trump mulling 2022 Senate run in North Carolina: report Juan Williams: Defeated Trump is in legal peril Trump campaign ends voter fraud hotline after it's filled with prank calls MORE, the president’s son, was deposed in this case in October.

Trump already owes more than $300 million to banks and creditors. He will have to repay that money or renegotiate the terms of the loans in the next four years. The Internal Revenue Service is also challenging him over a tax refund. A loss in that case could leave him owing another $100 million.

Then the question becomes, what would an ex-president do to pull in that much cash?

There is always the possibility that Trump could star in a television show. He might even start his own media company to pay bills. It was widely reported that his backup plan if he lost the 2016 election was to launch a “Trump TV” operation.

But it looks like he will be busy in court for a long time.

Oh, don’t forget, there are also defamation suits brought by two women who claim Trump sexually assaulted them. The women are taking Trump to court for saying they lied. A loss in those cases could drain him of more money.

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In the short run, the biggest risk to Trump in those cases is embarrassment. E. Jean Carroll, a magazine writer, has the right to get DNA from Trump to see if he stained a dress she said she wore when he allegedly raped her.

“Trump has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits,” Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker before Trump lost his bid for reelection. “Few people have evaded consequences more cunningly. That run of good luck may well end, perhaps brutally, if he loses to Joe BidenJoe BidenPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force MORE.”

Well, he lost.

Trump leaves office as one of only five incumbent U.S. presidents to lose reelection bids in the last 100 years.

He goes back to private life with a majority of the country — 54 percent according to the latest Fox News poll — disapproving of his job performance as president.

This is not exactly the kind of high esteem that could help in front of a jury.

And don’t forget, some Democrats still hunger for congressional investigations into his conduct as president.

Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellJuan Williams: Defeated Trump is in legal peril Taylor Swift allows song to be used in campaign ad Graham says SC people of color can go anywhere in the state but 'need to be conservative, not liberal' MORE (D-Calif.) has proposed a “presidential crimes commission” to untangle and investigate some of Trump’s questionable actions as president. But that carries grave political risk for Democrats.

In his victory speech, President-elect Biden said “this is the time to heal in America.”

Yes, the country needs healing. But honesty and accountability are part of national healing.

The greatest test of one of the founding principles of American life — no man is above the law in this country — will be on trial if Trump ends up in court.

It’s increasingly plausible that Trump’s greatest legacy could be as proof that even a man who held the highest office can end up in jail. 

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.