DOJ interviews with Trump lawyers mark a serious moment for the ex-president

The representative from Wyoming, who is 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 on Thursday that Trump’s lawyers were 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-stealing efforts and incitement to the mob that swarmed the US Capitol, is moving quickly and expanding its reach. – although there remains no indication when or even if the former president will be charged in the Justice Department investigation.

“Understanding what it means if the facts and the evidence are there, and they decide not to prosecute – how can we then call ourselves a nation of laws?” said Cheney, one of two Republicans in the panel.

CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara said the fact that Trump’s attorneys are already in communication with the investigation suggests they believe he could have significant exposure down the line.

“Active engagement suggests to me that lawyers think there is a danger here and that they should engage as soon as possible,” Bharara, a former U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York, told Wolf. CNN Blitzer. Bharara warned that the investigation could take a long time and that a decision “on whether to charge Donald Trump or not” could be several months away.

Learning what Trump was saying and thinking as his crowd descended on the US Capitol and during his earlier schemes to undo his election defeat could help establish whether the ex-president acted with corrupt intent and risked to be charged.

More immediately, the dialogue with Trump’s lawyers could also be the curtain raiser to what could well be a critical legal battle over the extent to which Trump – as a former president – can assert executive privilege over the conversations and advice he received during his stay. Desk. Such a case could go all the way to the Supreme Court and break new ground in itself, as there is little litigation on the issue of unelected presidents. Executive privilege is the custom that private conversations and advice given to a president can remain private, especially from Congress, under the separation of powers doctrine.

A long legal duel

The potential legal battle that Trump’s often-laughable privilege claims could spark could push the Justice Department investigation amid the former president’s likely 2024 campaign. of those triggered by the 45th president.

But more broadly, the latest news about the Justice Department investigation shows there is an aggressive criminal investigation closing in on a former US president — a historic turning point — after an administration who always tears down the safeguards of the democratic system even out of power.

This does not necessarily mean that Trump will be indicted. A criminal investigation requires a far higher standard of proof than the House Select Committee, which painted a damning picture of Trump’s actions before the Capitol uprising. And Trump has done his life’s work to evade legal scrapes and attempts to enforce accountability. During his sole presidency, he escaped 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 CNN’s new report, Trump’s team has warned him that there may be indictments arising from the grand jury investigation. And sources say the former president asked his advisers if he was in personal legal danger.

New Visibility into Aggressive DOJ Investigation

Kimberly Wehle, a professor at the University of Baltimore Law School, told CNN’s Erin Burnett that the contacts between Trump’s attorneys and prosecutors indicated a legal tussle over the scope of executive privilege.

“I think Donald Trump is going to lose this battle, but the fact that his lawyers are getting into this and telling him he better beware, indictments could come, I think that’s very serious news. for the former president but very good news for democracy, the rule of law and the Constitution,” Wehle said.

The latest revelations about the grand jury investigation reinforce signs that the Justice Department is moving quickly and broadly to investigate the insurgency after months of complaints — even from members of the House Select Committee — that it is not didn’t seem to be that active.

This in turn raises the possibility that another significant period of national trauma caused by Trump may be coming. The former president has previously claimed that the Biden administration is arming the Justice Department to prosecute political enemies — an accusation many critics leveled against him while he was still president. Trump would be sure to react to any signs that he is the target of the investigation or possible indictments from those around him by saying he is the victim of a politicized investigation. Given his hold on his supporters and his history of inciting violence, political tensions could become acute.

All of this will compound the dilemma that Attorney General Merrick Garland would face if evidence from the criminal investigation suggested a prosecution is warranted. Indicting a former president — especially a new White House candidate — would spark a political storm. 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, failing to prosecute an ex-president accused of helping to foment a coup attempt could set an equally dangerous precedent and send a signal to aberrant future presidents.

The Trump team discussed potential defense strategies

The most significant news to date regarding the Justice Department’s criminal investigation follows unmistakable signs of a thorough and expedited investigation. The department has, for example, subpoenaed former White House attorney Pat Cipollone and former assistant attorney 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, have already spoken to the grand jury. Investigators recently won a second warrant to search the cellphone of conservative lawyer John Eastman, one of the key figures who pushed Pence to cancel the 2020 election by rejecting voters in key swing states. In June, federal investigators 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 testimony before the House Select Committee.

In the latest report from CNN’s Katelyn Polantz, Kara Scannell, Gabby Orr and Kristen Holmes, sources reveal that some members of Trump’s legal team have discussed possible defense strategies on at least two occasions in recent months. . It comes as they await developments in not only the Justice Department investigation, but also a separate investigation by Georgia officials into Trump’s efforts to undo Biden’s election victory in the crucial state. in 2020.

Trump asked his lawyers if they really thought he would face formal charges, but he expressed skepticism that he would be impeached, one of the sources familiar with the matter said.

The CNN team also reveals that Trump ignored advice from advisers to avoid speaking to former and current aides who became entangled in the House Select Committee investigation and could be drawn into the criminal investigation.

On the question 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 decision that could be important in Trump’s case, the Supreme Court said executive privilege cannot be used to frustrate the administration of criminal justice.

The Jan. 6 House committee did not argue the issue of Cipollone’s reluctance to speak about certain conversations with Trump on the basis of executive privilege. It is running against a clock as it is likely to be dissolved by pro-Trump Republicans in the House if control of the chamber changes after the midterm elections in November. But the Justice Department has the luxury of more time to fight a legal fight.

And the possibility of a protracted investigation is one reason many observers believe Trump is leaning towards an early announcement of a 2024 presidential campaign, which would allow him to anger his supporters by arguing that the investigation is a politicized attempt by the Biden administration to keep him from taking over the White House.

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