The Wyoming representative, who serves as vice chairman of the House Select Committee investigating Jan. 6, 2021, issued what was effectively a challenge to the Justice Department, as CNN exclusively reported Thursday that lawyers for Trump is in talks with his prosecutors, in the most concrete step yet towards the former commander in chief.
The news was the latest sign that the department, criticized for months for moving too slowly to investigate Trump’s election-rigging effort and his incitement of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, is moving with speed and expanding its range, although there is no sign yet. when or even if the former president will be charged in the Justice Department investigation.
“Understand what it means if the facts and the evidence are there, and they decide not to prosecute — how do we call ourselves a nation of laws then?” said Cheney, one of two Republicans on the panel.
CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara said the fact that Trump’s lawyers are already in communication with the investigation suggests they believe he may have significant exposure in the future.
“The active participation suggests to me that lawyers think there is some danger here and they should engage sooner rather than later,” Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Bharara warned that the investigation could take a long time and that a decision “on whether or not to indict Donald Trump” could be many months away.
Knowing what Trump was saying and thinking as his mob entered the U.S. Capitol and during his earlier plans designed to overturn his election loss could help determine whether the former president acted with corrupt intent and might be in risk of being criminally charged.
More immediately, the dialogue with Trump’s lawyers could also be the curtain raiser on what could be a critical legal battle over the extent to which Trump, as a former president, can assert executive privilege over conversations and advice you received during your stay. office Such a case could reach the Supreme Court and, in itself, break new legal ground, since there is little litigation on the issue of presidents out of office. Executive privilege is the custom that private conversations and advice given to a president can remain private, especially from Congress, under the doctrine of separation of powers.
A long legal battle
The potential legal battle that Trump’s often hair-raising privilege claims could spark could push the Justice Department’s investigation into the middle of the former president’s likely 2024 campaign. This would carry the risk of another national political conflagration in addition to many fires by the 45th president.
But more broadly, the latest news about the Justice Department’s investigation shows that there is an aggressive criminal investigation that is winding down into a former US president, a historic watershed, after an administration that is still cracking down on rails of the democratic system even out of office.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Trump will be impeached. A criminal investigation requires a much higher standard of proof than the House select committee, which has painted a damning picture of Trump’s actions before the Capitol uprising. And Trump has made a lifetime’s work of escaping legal digs and attempts to enforce accountability. Only during his presidency was he freed from the Russia investigation. He was the first president to be impeached twice by the House, although he was not convicted in Senate trials or barred from future federal office.
Still, according to the new CNN report, Trump’s team has warned him that there could be indictments as a result of the grand jury investigation. And sources say the former president has asked his advisers if he is in personal legal jeopardy.
New Visibility on Aggressive DOJ Investigations
Kimberly Wehle, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, told CNN’s Erin Burnett that contacts between Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors pointed to a legal battle over the scope of executive privilege.
“I think Donald Trump is going to lose this battle, but the fact that his lawyers are getting involved in this and telling him he better be careful, indictments could come, I think that’s very serious news for the former president, but a very good one for the former president. democracy, the rule of law and the Constitution,” Wehle said.
The latest revelations about the grand jury investigation bolster signs that the Justice Department is moving quickly and expansively to investigate the insurgency after months of complaints, including from members of the House Select Committee, that it didn’t seem so active .
This, in turn, raises the possibility of another major period of Trump-induced national trauma. The former president has already claimed that the Biden administration is arming the Justice Department to go after his political enemies, a charge many critics leveled against him while he was still president. Trump would surely react to any indication that he is a target of the investigation or possible indictments of those around him by claiming that he is being victimized by a politicized investigation. Given his dominance over his supporters and a record of inciting violence, political tensions could rise.
All of this will heighten the dilemma that Attorney General Merrick Garland would face if the evidence in the criminal investigation suggests that a prosecution is warranted. Impeaching a former president, especially one running for the White House again, would cause a political firestorm. This must raise the question of whether targeting Trump would be in the broader national interest outside of the criminal context. At the same time, not prosecuting a former president accused of helping to foment a coup attempt could set an equally dangerous precedent and send a signal to future aberrant presidents.
Trump’s team discussed possible defense strategies
The most significant news yet about the Justice Department’s criminal investigation follows unmistakable signs of a thorough and accelerated investigation. The department, for example, has subpoenaed former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and former deputy attorney general Patrick Philbin.
Last week, it emerged that two of former Vice President Mike Pence’s top aides, former chief of staff Marc Short and former attorney Greg Jacob, had already spoken to the grand jury. Investigators recently obtained a second warrant to search the cell phone of conservative attorney John Eastman, one of the key figures in pushing Pence to overturn the 2020 election by turning away voters in key swing states. Federal investigators in June conducted a pre-dawn search of the home of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times in a statement to the House select committee.
In the latest report by CNN’s Katelyn Polantz, Kara Scannell, Gabby Orr and Kristen Holmes, sources revealed that some members of Trump’s legal team discussed possible defense strategies on at least two occasions in recent months. This comes as they await developments not only in the Justice Department investigation, but in a separate investigation by Georgia officials into Trump’s efforts to overturn Biden’s 2020 electoral victory in the crucial state.
Trump has asked his lawyers whether they really believe he will face formal charges, but has expressed skepticism that he will be indicted, one of the sources familiar with the matter said.
The CNN team also reveals that Trump has ignored advisers’ advice to avoid talking to former and current aides who have been embroiled in the House Select Committee investigation and who could be drawn into the criminal probe.
On the issue of executive privilege, historical precedent could work against the former president. During the Watergate scandal, then-President Richard Nixon asserted executive privilege in an attempt to prevent the release of incriminating audio tapes. But in a ruling that could be significant in Trump’s case, the Supreme Court said executive privilege could not be used to thwart the administration of criminal justice.
The Jan. 6 House committee did not litigate the issue of Cipollone’s reluctance to discuss certain conversations with Trump on the basis of executive privilege. He is racing against the clock as he is likely to be dissolved by pro-Trump Republicans in the House if control of the chamber changes after November’s midterm elections. But the Justice Department has the luxury of more time to mount a legal fight.
And the possibility of a protracted investigation is one reason many observers believe Trump is leaning toward an early announcement of a presidential campaign in 2024, which would allow him to anger his supporters by arguing that the investigation is a politicized attempt by the Biden administration to maintain. to take back the White House.