U-M expert: Trump criminal case holds twists, turns and potential links to other major news events

June 19, 2023


Now that Donald Trump has been arraigned on numerous charges stemming from his continued possession of national security documents, what does the road ahead look like for the former president—the first to face federal criminal charges?

Will Thomas, University of Michigan assistant professor of business law whose research explores the foundations of corporate and white-collar crime, offers insights and potential connections to other governments and even the professional golfing world.

“The unknowns outstrip the knowns”

No sitting or former president has ever been indicted before, and by the end of the summer, Trump might be indicted as many as four times from prosecutors in New York, Georgia and Washington, D.C. 

It’s cliche to say that all of this is unprecedented, but still—it’s unprecedented.The blurring of political and white-collar crime, coupled with an upcoming presidential election, means the legal unknowns for the next two years vastly outstrip the knowns.

The intersection of golf and government

One of the biggest recent stories, at least before the Justice Department indicted a former president under the Espionage Act, was the surprise announcement the PGA Tour would merge with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour. As it turns out, there are a lot of reasons to think those two stories are going to crash into each other.

Trump and his family developed well-documented, close personal ties to Saudi Arabia leaders both during and after his presidency. This close relationship appears to have run through the LIV Golf Tour, which had agreed to host several major tournaments at Trump-owned properties. 

One of those events is scheduled for later this summer at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster—the very same property where prosecutors alleged in their indictment that former Trump shipped boxes of highly sought documents. 

As far as the public is concerned, the FBI has not searched the club for any national security documents, even though news reports indicate some of the most high-profile national security documents listed in the indictment have not yet been recovered. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic intersection of business and politics than a major sports event, sponsored by a foreign government, taking place at a property owned by a U.S. citizen awaiting trial for illegally possessing state secrets. 

This May’s PGA Championship had originally been scheduled to take place at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, until the PGA Tour cut ties with Trump properties seemingly in response to Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Now that LIV Golf and the PGA are combining, will that soft ban on Trump properties continue? Will the new entity change course?