WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — The House Jan. 6 committee has heard dramatic testimony from former White House aides and others about Donald Trump’s relentless efforts to reverse the 2020 election — and their encouragement of supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol. heard about. Desperate to achieve his goal. But the big question is, was any of it criminal?
Cassidy Hutchinson, Trump’s White House aideadded new urgency to the question Tuesday as he gave explosive new testimony January 6, 2021, about Trump’s actions before and during the rebellion. She said Trump was informed there were armed protesters at his morning rally before he took to the stage and told them to “fight like hell” at the Capitol. Then he argued with his security detailsShe said, trying to go with the crowd.
Trump’s aides knew there could be legal consequences. Hutchinson said White House counsel Pat Cipollone told him “we’re going to be indicted for every crime” if Trump went to the Capitol that day, as Congress was testifying to President Joe Biden’s victory. Cipollone said Trump could expose himself to obstructing justice charges or cheating the election count, she said.
On the heels of Hutchinson’s public testimony, the House committee on Wednesday issued a subpoena for Cipollone, saying in a letter that he had been fired by him when he provided an “informal interview” on April 13. Was refused to testify off-the-record. essential.
The Justice Department recently expanded its investigation into the January 6 attack that targeted some of Trump’s aides in Washington and across the country who participated in his plan to invalidate Biden’s victory. But prosecutors have not indicated whether they will bring a case against the former president.
A look at the potential crimes, and what Congress and the Justice Department can do:
What is the evidence shown?
Witnesses testify that Trump was repeatedly mentored by campaign aides And top government officials said he had lost the election to Biden and that his claims of widespread voter fraud were skewed from reality.
Yet he carried on by shouting false accusations that resulted in a riot at the Capitol.
While still in office, he leans on the Justice Department to get government law enforcement officers to take his reason. He put pressure on states — asking Georgia’s secretary of state to “find the vote,” for example — and Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over a joint session of Congress that day.
Hutchinson testified that Trump said he wanted metal detectors removed from the area where he was delivering a speech on Jan. He said it didn’t matter if the supporters, who were about to go to the Capitol, were carrying weapons because they weren’t there to hurt him.
Trump on Tuesday denied much of Hutchinson’s testimony on his social media website, which was based on his own conversations with Trump and information from others who spoke to him that day.
Did Trump commit any crime?
He has not been charged, but legal experts believe the testimony, assuming it can be substantiated, gives prosecutors a way forward.
Federal law, for example, makes it an offense to incite, organize, encourage, or abet the riots that surrounded the Capitol. But it’s a high bar for prosecutors. Trump’s call to “fight like hell” can be construed as a more general call to action. In his impeachment trial after the rebellion, he was acquitted by the Senate of incitement.
Still, a federal judge in FebruaryTrump’s words “plausible” caused a riot, while rejecting Trump’s request to dismiss conspiracy lawsuits from Democratic lawmakers and two Capitol police officers. And Hutchinson, hearing Trump’s complaint about metal detectors, suggested first-hand that he knew some supporters were capable of violence, but brushed it off.
A more likely option for prosecutors, Jimmy Gurley, a former federal prosecutor who is a professor of Notre Dame law, said would be to pursue a case that Trump had through his widespread efforts to reverse and obstruct the election. Conspired to deceive the United States. Proceedings of Congress on which the results were to be certified.
The sweeping statute cited by the House committee when it insisted in a March legal filing This is evidence that Trump was involved in a “criminal conspiracy”.
“He was perpetuating the big lie. To what extent? To stay in power and prevent Biden from taking the reins of the presidency,” Gurley said. “It was a betrayal of the American people.”
Some legal experts say it didn’t matter whether Trump believed the election was stolen or not. But others say much will depend on the president’s intent and state of mind and whether he supported activities they knew were illegal. Although witnesses testified under oath that he was defeated by Trump, it would be difficult to prove what he really believed.
Samuel Buell, a professor of criminal law at Duke University, said, “I can say with confidence that any serious felony-level federal crime being charged here requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal intent. Will be.”
“Any argument that he does not believe he is doing something that is against the law … is still an argument he can make and still has something to prove to the prosecutor.”
Will the Justice Department really bring the case?
It’s anybody’s guess. Congressional hearings have produced eye-popping testimony, but the one-sided presentation of facts, with no opportunity for cross-examination of witnesses, is far from the burden of evidence and the hurdles of trial in criminal trials.
One of Hutchinson’s more striking accounts—that Trump, being driven to the White House instead of the Capitol on January 6th, tried to grasp the steering wheel of his presidential vehicle—was something he heard with the other hand, Possibly unacceptable before a jury.
There are clear signs prosecutors are moving on from the rioters, with several state Republicans last week subpoenaing presidents of a plan to create a slate of alternative, or fake, voters in an effort to divert the vote by Trump allies. are investigating.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, a former federal appeals court judge and observant by nature, has pledged that the Justice Department will hold accountable wrongdoing “at any level” – more than 800 people have been charged so far – but he has held a Or put it another way, he is considering a case against Trump.
Some Democrats in Congress are pressing Garland to act. January 6 The committee itself may make a formal criminal referral based on its more than 1,000 interviews. The Justice Department would not have acted on such a referral, but it is pressing the panel to hand over transcripts of its interviews as it builds its case.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
There is no legal bar to prosecute Trump as a former president. Since she is no longer in office, the Justice Department’s legal opinion that protected her from criminal charges no longer applies.
But while it can be difficult for a department to turn its back on a case, if cumulative evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt, there are other factors to consider. No former president has been prosecuted by the Justice Department, and a criminal case against an already polarizing former president risks dividing the country even further.
Trump is also laying the groundwork for another presidency, and the department wants to avoid any assumptions that he is targeting Biden’s political adversary in the heat of the election.
“It will be,” Buell said, “one of the most difficult issues any US Attorney General has ever faced.”