As a businessman and president, Donald Trump has faced lawsuits and criminal investigations, and yet he has repeatedly emerged from legal scrutiny with his public and political reputation intact.
But perhaps he has never encountered a dangerous investigation like Mar-a-Lago, which focuses on the possible mishandling of top-secret documents. The sense of vulnerability has grown in recent weeks, not only because the Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor with a reputation for aggressiveness, but also because of the removal of an independent expert in the case that was requested by Trump and clarified. By rejection by the judges of the arguments of their lawyers.
It is impossible to predict how long the investigation will last or whether the Justice Department will take the unprecedented step of impeaching a former president and a current candidate. But Trump is no longer protected from prosecution in the way it was when he was in office, and some legal experts see the Mar-a-Lago investigation as focusing on more direct, fact-based legal issues than previous investigations. .
“Unlike many previous investigations involving these complex financial frauds where prosecutors have had to convince a jury why the conduct is a crime, here prosecutors will not have that difficulty, they will not have the challenge of explaining what is what.” Robert Mintz, a former Justice Department prosecutor, said, “If charges are eventually filed, there is a crime”.
An investigative hurdle for the Justice Department was removed last week when an appeals court panel — including two judges appointed by Trump — terminated the work of a special expert who had been tasked with conducting an independent review of thousands of documents seized by the FBI. Was asked to review. Its Mar-a-Lago raid. The decision allows prosecutors to access the entire set of documents for their investigation.
In a harsh opinion reached very early in history, the court held that a search of a former president’s property was extraordinary, but not so extraordinary as to warrant special treatment.
“It’s not often that you see cases cited in appellate court decisions that were decided in the 1800s, in 1794,” said David Weinstein, a Florida criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. “These are the foundations of law that have existed for a long time and on which they rely.”
Of course, investigations are nothing new to Trump, and speculation about the legal risk he runs has previously been proven wrong.
Last year, New York state prosecutors indicted Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, and its longtime chief financial officer, but not the former president. In September, the New York attorney general accused Trump of inflating his net worth by billions of dollars and defrauding banks, but these charges were made in a lawsuit, not a criminal case.
As president, he was investigated by a former special prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, into whether his successful 2016 campaign illegally colluded with Russia and whether he tried to obstruct that investigation. Mueller ultimately found insufficient evidence to claim that there was a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and Moscow, as well as citing a long-standing Justice Department policy that prohibits the impeachment of a sitting president.
Points impeding that inquiry included an analysis of constitutional law and the scope of presidential power. But prosecutors in the Mar-a-Lago investigation have largely downplayed the relevance of Trump’s position as former president, saying during the independent expert’s trial that as commander-in-chief of the armed forces He has secret records. Not related to this.
And the appeals panel, in its opinion last week, rejected the idea that Trump was entitled to return the records seized from his home or to have them reviewed by an independent expert, something that it called a “special exception.” will create.
The records had been scrutinized for months before being brought into the public eye by an FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago on August 8, in which agents removed nearly 100 classified-secret documents. By that time, Justice Department officials say they had developed probable cause to believe that crimes related to obstruction as well as the withholding of national defense information had been committed.
Since then, the investigation has shown signs of gaining momentum, with the Justice Department presenting evidence before a grand jury and last month granting immunity to a Trump aide to protect his testimony.
The investigation is being led by Jack Smith, formerly head of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and most recently as war crimes prosecutor in The Hague. Smith is also overseeing key aspects of a separate Justice Department investigation related to efforts by Trump and his associates to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney is separately investigating efforts to override that state’s results as well.
Smith’s appointment by Attorney General Merrick Garland came three days after Trump announced his candidacy for the White House. The announcement will not stop the investigation, although it may accelerate its pace to avoid disrupting the 2024 presidential race at its height.
His candidacy could, theoretically, make the investigation more significant, said Franklin Monsour Jr., a former federal prosecutor, because it would no longer be just about a former president.
“Now it’s about someone trying to be president again and trying to get hold of national security material again,” he said.
However, legal experts expect the Justice Department to weigh more than just the strength of the evidence when deciding whether to proceed with the case. There will be questions about how much incriminating evidence he can present to a jury, and the feasibility of selecting an unbiased jury given Trump’s ubiquitous name recognition and the emotional reactions it has received from both camps.
The impeachment of a former president is also being seen as political, further polarizing an already divided country as well as risking giving the court a circus-like atmosphere.
“Basically, it’s about weighing the principle that no one is above the law against the practical political consequences that bring these kinds of allegations against a former president, especially one who is once again president.” running for,” Mintz said.
“It’s an exceptionally difficult decision,” he said.
Eric Tucker is on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP
This story was originally published on December 6th, 2022 0:58 am.