The searing testimony and growing evidence of Donald Trump’s central role in a multi-pronged plot to overthrow the 2020 election of Joe Biden, presented during the first three House committee hearings on January 6, boosted the odds. that Trump faces criminal charges, according to former DoJ prosecutors. and officials.
The panel’s early hearings provided a sort of legal roadmap of Trump’s multi-faceted motives — in tandem with some of the top lawyers and loyalists — to keep Biden from taking office, which should benefit prosecutors at the Department of Justice. Justice in their sprawling investigations into the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters.
Former Justice Department lawyers say new revelations in the hearings increase the likelihood that Trump will be charged with crimes of conspiracy to obstruct official process or defraud the United States, when he has taken desperate and seemingly illegal measures to undermine Biden’s election.
Trump could also face fraud charges for his role in a seemingly extraordinary fundraising scam – described by House panel members as the “big scam” – which raised some $250 million for a “ election defense fund” that did not exist but funneled huge sums to Trump’s Save America political action committee and Trump properties.
The panel hopes to hold six hearings on different parts of what its vice president, Liz Cheney, called Trump’s “sophisticated seven-part plan” to void the election.
Trump has repeatedly been told, for example, by senior aides and cabinet officials — including former attorney general Bill Barr — that the election was not stolen and that his allegations of fraud were “complete bullshit” and “crazy stuff” as Barr put it. a video of his scathing deposition. But Trump has persisted in pushing baseless fraud allegations with the backing of key allies including his ex-personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and attorney John Eastman.
“The January 6 committee investigation uncovered substantial and compelling evidence that Trump committed crimes, including, but not limited to, a conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruct official process. “, former DoJ inspector general Michael Bromwich told the Guardian.
Donald Ayer, former deputy attorney general in the George HW Bush administration, told the Guardian that “the committee hearings have reinforced the need to seriously consider bringing criminal charges against Trump.”
The bulk of any Trump prosecution would hinge heavily on a jury’s belief that Trump knew he lost the election and acted with criminal intent to nullify the valid election results. The hearings focused heavily on testimony that Trump knew full well he had lost and went full steam ahead to concoct plans to stay in power.
New revelations damaging to Trump emerged on Thursday when Greg Jacob, the ex-lawyer for former Vice President Mike Pence, detailed how Eastman and Trump ran a high-pressure campaign, publicly and privately, while even that the Capitol was under attack, to push Pence to illegally block the certification of Biden by Congress on January 6.
Eastman’s push included a ploy to replace bogus pro-Trump voters in states Biden won with voters legitimately pledged to Biden — a ploy the DoJ has been investigating for months and now involves a grand jury focused on Eastman, Giuliani and several other lawyers and operatives.
Eastman at one point admitted to Jacob that he knew his efforts to get Pence on Jan. 6 to reject Biden’s winning Electoral College count would violate voter count law, and that Trump, too, had been told. that it would be illegal for Pence to block Biden’s certification. .
Paul Pelletier, former acting head of the DoJ’s fraud section, said: “It’s a target-rich environment, with plenty of before and after props to investigate.”
But experts warn that any decision to indict Trump will rest with current attorney general Merrick Garland, who has been careful not to discuss the details of his department’s Jan. 6 investigations, which have so far led to charges against more than 800 people, including some Proud Boys and Oath Keepers accused of seditious conspiracy.
After the first two hearings, Garland told reporters, “I’m watching and will watch all of the hearings,” adding that DoJ prosecutors are doing the same.
Garland remarked in reference to a possible investigation of Trump: “We’re just going to follow the facts wherever they lead…to hold all perpetrators criminally responsible for January 6th, regardless of their level, position, and regardless of who they are.” whether or not they were present at the events of January 6.
But Garland has yet to say whether Trump himself is under investigation. Despite this reluctance, Justice Department veterans say the wealth of testimony from former Trump insiders and new revelations from House hearings should spur the department to investigate and indict Trump.
Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for Eastern Michigan, said the panel’s early evidence was strong, including “video testimony from Trump insiders who told Trump he was going to lose badly, and that ‘When it came to the voter fraud allegations, there was ‘no there,’ as former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows acknowledged in an exchange made public during the hearings.
McQuade added that Barr’s testimony was “devastating for Trump. He and other Trump insiders who testified to their conversations with Trump established that Trump knew he had lost the election and continued to make public allegations of fraud anyway. This knowledge can help establish the fraudulent intent necessary to prove criminal offenses against Trump.
In a new legal twist that could emerge if Trump is indicted, Bromwich said: “Bizarrely, Trump’s best defense against the mountain of evidence that proves these crimes appears to be that he was incapable of forming the criminal intent necessary to convict. That he was detached from reality, in Barr’s words.But there’s strong evidence that he’s not crazy – but mad as a fox.
“How else to explain his attempts to pressure the Georgian secretary of state to ‘find the votes’ needed to alter the result?” Or that he told DoJ officials to simply declare the election “corrupt” and leave “the rest to me” and House Republican allies? »
Bromwich added: “All of this does not show someone incapable of forming criminal intent, but someone who understood what the facts were and was determined not to accept them. Because he couldn’t bear to lose. It was far more important to him than honoring our institutions or the constitution.
Former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin said Trump could face charges for what Cheney called the “big scam,” which centers on the allegation that “Trump raised money from small donors after the elections under false pretenses”.
Zeldin said: “Specifically, he asked for the money to fight voter fraud when in fact the money was used for other purposes. This type of conduct could violate wire fraud law.
Ayer cited the importance of a Justice Department regulation identifying the factors to be considered in deciding whether to charge or not, and noted three of particular relevance to Trump – the nature and seriousness of the offence, the significant deterrent effect of prosecution and the culpability of the individual being charged.
But it may not be all that simple.
Simmering tensions between the panel and the Justice Department have escalated over DoJ requests — so far denied — to obtain 1,000 witness transcripts of committee interviews, which prosecutors say are needed for the upcoming Proud Boys trials and other cases. However, The New York Times reported that some witness transcripts may be shared next month.
Still, as Garland debates whether to move forward with Trump’s investigation and indictment, experts warn that prosecuting Trump would require enormous resources, given the unprecedented nature of such a big case and the risks of a jury winding up acquitting Trump — which could only heighten his appeal to the Republican base. Yet, at the same time, the stakes for the country not to aggressively investigate Trump are also extremely high.
“No one should underestimate the seriousness of the decision to criminally charge an ex-president,” said former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut.
For Aftergut, however, charging Trump seems imperative.
“At the end of the day, the avalanche of documents and sworn testimony proving a multi-faceted criminal plot to overthrow the will of the people means one thing: if no one is above the law, even an ex-president who led this plot must be charged”.