Former prosecutors say January 6 hearings have delivered ‘compelling evidence that Trump committed crimes’
According to former DOJ prosecutors and officials, the exploding testimony and growing evidence about Donald Trump‘s central role in a multi-pronged conspiracy to overturn Joe Biden‘s election in 2020 presented at the House committee’s first three hearings on January 6 has increased the odds that Trump will face criminal charges.
The panel’s initial hearings provided a legal roadmap about Trump’s multi-faceted efforts – in collaboration with some top lawyers and loyalists – to prevent Biden from taking office, which should help justice department prosecutors in their sprawling investigations into a mob of Trump supporters’ assault on the Capitol on January 6, which should benefit justice department prosecutors in their sprawling investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters.
New revelations at the hearings, according to former Justice Department lawyers, increase the likelihood that Trump will be charged with crimes such as conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding or defrauding the United States, as he took desperate and seemingly illegal steps to try and destroy Biden’s election, as per The Guardian reported.
Trump could also face fraud charges for his alleged role in an alleged extraordinary fundraising scam – dubbed the “big rip-off” by House panel members – that netted $250 million for an “election defense fund” that funneled huge sums to Trump’s Save America political action committee and Trump properties.
The subcommittee plans to hold six hearings on various aspects of Trump’s “sophisticated seven-part plan” to overturn the election, according to vice-chair Liz Cheney.
Top advisers and cabinet officials, for example, including ex-attorney general Bill Barr, informed Trump repeatedly that the election was not rigged and that his fraud accusations were “completely bullshit” and “crazy stuff,” as Barr described it in a video of his scathing deposition.
However, with the support of key allies such as Trump’s ex-personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and lawyer John Eastman, Trump continued to make bogus fraud claims.
“The January 6 committee’s investigation has developed substantial, compelling evidence that Trump committed crimes, including but not limited to conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruct official proceedings,” Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general at the DoJ told the Guardian.
Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general in the George HW Bush administration, told the Guardian that “the committee hearings have bolstered the need to seriously consider filing criminal charges against Trump”.
The most difficult part of any Trump trial would be persuading a jury that Trump knew he lost the election and acted with criminal intent to change the results. The hearings have been headlined by testimony that Trump was well aware that he had lost the election and went all out to concoct plans to stay in office.
On Thursday, Greg Jacob, the ex-counsel for former Vice President Mike Pence, detailed how Eastman and Trump used high-pressure methods, both publicly and privately, to convince Pence to unlawfully block Biden’s certification by Congress on January 6, even as the Capitol was under attack.
A scheme to substitute pro-Trump fake electors from states where Biden won for electors who were rightfully pledged to Biden was part of the Eastman pressure – a scheme that the DOJ has been investigating for months and that now involves a grand jury focused on Eastman, Giuliani, and several other lawyers and operatives.
Eastman admitted to Jacob that he knew his push to have Pence reject Biden’s winning electoral college tally on January 6 would violate the Electoral Count Act, and that Trump, too, had been advised that delaying Biden’s certification would be illegal.
Paul Pelletier, a former acting chief of the DoJ’s fraud section, said: “It is a target-rich environment, with many accessories both before and after the fact to be investigated.”
Experts warn that any decision to charge Trump will be made by the current attorney general, Merrick Garland, who has avoided discussing details of his department’s January 6 investigations, which have so far resulted in charges against over 800 people, including some Proud Boys and Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy.
After the first two hearings, Garland told reporters, “I’m watching and I will be watching all the hearings,” adding that DoJ prosecutors are doing likewise.
Garland remarked in reference to possibly investigating Trump: “We’re just going to follow the facts wherever they lead … to hold all perpetrators who are criminally responsible for January 6 accountable, regardless of their level, their position, and regardless of whether they were present at the events on January 6.”
Garland, on the other hand, hasn’t said whether Trump is under investigation. Despite this hesitancy, veterans of the Justice Department think the wealth of testimony from one-time Trump insiders and new findings at the House hearings should compel the department to investigate and charge Trump.
Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney for eastern Michigan, said the panel’s early evidence was strong, including “video testimony of Trump insiders who told Trump that he was going to lose badly, and that with regard to claims of election fraud, there was ‘no there there’,” as Trump’s ex-chief of staff Mark Meadows acknowledged in one exchange made public at the hearings.
McQuade added that Barr’s testimony was “devastating for Trump. He and other Trump insiders who testified about their conversations with Trump established that Trump knew he had lost the election and continued to make public claims of fraud anyway. That knowledge can help establish the fraudulent intent necessary to prove criminal offenses against Trump.”
In a novel legal twist that could emerge if Trump is charged, Bromwich said: “Bizarrely, Trump’s best defense to the mountain of evidence that proves these crimes seems 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 is strong evidence that he is not crazy – but instead is crazy like a fox.
“How else to explain his attempts to pressure the Georgia secretary of state to ‘find the votes’ necessary to change the result? Or his telling DoJ officials to simply declare the election ‘corrupt’ and leave ‘the rest to me’ and Republican House allies?”
Bromwich added: “All of this shows not 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 stand to lose. That was far more important to him than honoring our institutions or the constitution.”
Former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin said Trump could face charges over what Cheney called the “big rip-off”, which centers on the allegation that “Trump raised money from small-dollar donors after the election under false pretenses”.
Zeldin said: “Specifically, he asked for money to fight election fraud when, in fact, the money was used for other purposes. This type of conduct could violate the wire fraud statute.”
Ayer emphasized the importance of a Justice Department regulation identifying factors to consider when deciding whether or not to charge, citing three in particular that are relevant to Trump: the nature and severity of the offense, the important deterrent effect of prosecutions, and the culpability of the person being charged.
However, it is possible that things will not go smoothly.
Tensions between the panel and the Justice Department have risen as a result of the Justice Department’s – so far – failure to obtain 1,000 witness transcripts of committee interviews, which prosecutors claim are required for the Proud Boys’ and other cases’ future trials. However, according to the New York Times, some witness transcripts may be released next month.
Nonetheless, as Garland considers whether to investigate and charge Trump, experts have warned that a prosecution of Trump would necessitate a huge investment of resources, given the unprecedented nature of such a high-stakes case and the risk that a jury could acquit Trump – which would only serve to strengthen Trump’s appeal to the Republican base. At the same time, the stakes for the country are extremely high if Trump is not aggressively investigated.
“No one should underestimate the gravity of deciding to criminally charge an ex-president,” said former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut.
For Aftergut, though, charging Trump seems imperative.
“Ultimately, the avalanche of documents and sworn testimony proving a multi-faceted criminal conspiracy to overturn the will of the people means one thing: if no one is above the law, even an ex-president who led that conspiracy must be indicted.”