Washington— The revelation on Tuesday evening that the Justice Department’s investigation into the events ofnow understands Former President Donald Trump and his allies have intensified speculation over whether the former president could face legal issues for his conduct related to the assault. And as federal prosecutors up to Attorney General Merrick Garland face mounting outside pressure to prosecute Trump, the critical question remains as to what federal crimes could be brought and successfully tried against the former president.
As part of its investigation, the Department of Justice examined a scheme to appointfor Trump in key battleground states he lost in the 2020 presidential election. The Justice Department also reviewed the actions surrounding the Jan. 6 attack, when a crowd of Trump supporters he former president, many of whom were armed, broke into the Capitol building to prevent Congress from counting the state’s electoral votes and reaffirming President Biden’s victory.
Former Trump White House aides, including Marc Short, who served as former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, haveinvestigating the attack, and US law enforcement targeted and within the probe.
Trump, Eastman and Clark have not been charged with any crime or charged with wrongdoing, and the news that questions are being asked about the former president’s conduct does not indicate that Trump is the target of a federal investigation. The former president maintains that he did nothing wrong and continues to claim, without evidence, that the election was rigged.
The investigation by federal prosecutors is taking place alongside an in-depth review of the events surrounding Jan. 6 by a House select committee, whicha tranche of eight public hearings last week, but more are expected.
Throughout the hearings, the House panel mapped what it described as Trump’s multi-pronged campaign to stay in power, which included efforts toand reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election, and contest the election result, culminating in the crashing down violently on the Capitol.
The former president’s plans ultimately failed, and Mr. Biden’sby Congress in the early morning hours of January 7.
Despite that setback, legal analysts and former prosecutors have weighed in on two specific criminal charges they say could pose a legal threat to the former president: Obstruction of official process – the January 6 joint session of Congress to tally electoral votes – and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The charges, experts said, would focus on Trump’s alleged knowledge that the election was not stolen and his attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power when he knew he had lost.
Randall Eliason, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said the obstruction charges stemmed from both the scheme to appoint bogus voters to vote for Trump and Eastman’s strategy to get Pence to reject unilaterally the electoral votes of key states. during the January 6 proceedings or refer them to the state legislatures.
The conspiracy to defraud the United States, meanwhile, applies to corrupt efforts to obstruct a lawful government function: the certification of election results by Congress on January 6.
“For all charges, everything will be in the nature of a conspiracy charge,” Eliason, a law professor at George Washington University, told CBS News. The conspiracy charge requires a larger plan between the co-defendants to commit a crime. “It’s possible that older people like Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows are also involved in the same case.”
Neither Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, nor Giuliani, his outside attorney, have been charged with any crime. The House committee on January 6 recommended that Meadows be charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, but the Justice Department declined to indict him.
The Justice Department could also pursue a seditious conspiracy charge, Eliason said, though that would require prosecutors to show that Trump conspired to use force “to prevent, obstruct, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.” United”. Members ofand two far-right groups, have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6 attack.
Scott Fredericksen, a former federal prosecutor and independent attorney, said bringing charges of seditious conspiracy and inciting a riot against the former president would require a “higher standard of proof” for prosecutors, who would have to both indict Trump and attempt to have him successfully convicted. At the trial.
Fredericksen thinks the Justice Department should look at the “whole concept” of the so-called “big lie,” Trump’s continually pushed claim that the election was stolen. Prosecutors, he said, “should be able to prove pretty clearly that Trump knew full well he lost the election, that election wasn’t stolen and it was a complete fabrication,” which, according to Fredericksen, would make Trump’s claims and later attempts to prevent the transfer of power a potential aspect of a criminal conspiracy.
“It’s not just January 6,” Fredericksen told CBS News, “January 6 is, in some ways, the high point.”
Testimony obtained by the committee sheds new light on the extent to which senior White House and administration officials, as well as campaign advisers, told Trump that his allegations of widespread voter fraud were not grounded and encouraged him to come to terms with his loss, though their warnings did little to deter Trump’s strenuous efforts to thwart the transfer of power.
While Eliason said much of what has been revealed by the select committee during its investigation so far is potentially relevant to a case brought against Trump, “the criminal charges carry a very heavy burden of proof. higher”.
“It has to be as watertight as possible, because it’s one thing to have testimony at a hearing that’s uncontested, it’s another thing to have it at a trial where you’re subject to cross-examination and defense witnesses,” he said. “It would be a very different type of animal. You must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before an anonymous 12-person jury.”
The unprecedented nature of such a case weighs heavily on Trump’s potential to face charges, as never before in US history has a former president been prosecuted by the Justice Department, without talk about whoever continues to tease another run for the White House.
The decision whether or not to pursue criminal charges would be “the most consequential decision made by an attorney general,” Eliason said, and raises “significant” issues to consider, including whether such a decision would involve an administration prosecuting the former president of the opposition. to party.
Fredericksen agreed: “The very idea of politics pervades this whole thing. That’s why I think the Justice Department is extremely cautious and reluctant to investigate, let alone indict, a former president. … That doesn’t has never been done before because it will be seen by much of the country as a political prosecution.”
“A prosecutor is going to refrain from charging any crime for which he uses some kind of political activity. A prosecutor will not touch it,” said Fredericksen, adding that the legal line between political acts and criminal acts is a complicated barrier. for prosecutors. “On the one hand, it could be political, but when it’s used with the idea of overthrowing the government, then it’s criminal.”
To avoid the perception of politicization, prosecutors should proceed as they would in any other criminal case by interviewing witnesses, obtaining cooperation and gathering as much evidence as possible, Fredericksen said.
“There is no special formula,” he added.
With each new revelation about the events surrounding January 6, Garland has continued to come under scrutiny regarding the Justice Department’s future actions. In a interview with NBC News which aired on Tuesday, Garland stressed, as he has done before, that the Justice Department “would bring to justice all those who were criminally responsible for obstructing the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another, which is the fundamental element of our democracy”.
Yet Garland iswho broke the law “at any level” in charge has done little to appease some congressional Democrats and Trump critics, who are pushing for a case to be brought quickly.
But Eliason said the investigation was progressing at a pace one would expect given its “size and complexity” and noted that the lawsuits against Watergate and Enron spanned several years.
“Prosecutors are climbing higher and higher, closer and closer to the inner circle,” he said, referring to Short’s recent grand jury appearance. “We don’t know how it ends, it doesn’t mean the charges will be found justified, it just means they do what Garland said, starting with the rioters and moving up.”
The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington declined to comment.