Detailed testimony from Trump’s inner circle depicts an unhinged man throwing plates and trying to strangle his protective staff when his efforts were foiled at different turns.
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- These 16 Republican congressmembers helped Trump try to overturn the 2020 election
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But, if true, is any of it a crime?
Summarizing the committee’s findings at its sixth hearing on June 28, committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the committee had “laid out the details of a multipart pressure campaign driven by the former president aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election and blocking the transfer of power. We’ve shown that this effort was based on a lie — a lie that the election was stolen, tainted by widespread fraud: Donald Trump’s big lie.”
Still, this would be a tough crime to prove, according to Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and current professor at the University of Michigan Law School.
At one point during his speech, Trump also urged against violence. “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,” he said.
“This crime seems unlikely because of the First Amendment implications and Trump’s inclusion of the word ‘peacefully,’” said McQuade.
The committee is working to establish that Trump knew widespread voter fraud was a myth, yet he tried to prevent the certification of the presidential election on Jan. 6 anyway, and that he had help from members of Congress and others in his inner circle.
“If he knew he was lying about election fraud and nonetheless sought to disrupt the transfer of power to Joe Biden, this crime could be established,” said McQuade.
“That is how you start to prove a corrupt intent,” Sherman said. “I think that’s exactly what prosecutors would need to be able to demonstrate in order to bring charges and ultimately win a conviction.”
A grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, is investigating potential criminal interference with the 2020 election in the state. On July 5, it issued seven subpoenas to key Trumpworld figures including attorney Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), as well as five other Trump attorneys.
McQuade said bringing seditious conspiracy charges against Trump would require proving he agreed with others to use force against the U.S. government to prevent the execution of the law. “If, for example, he was working in agreement with the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers to intentionally breach the Capitol to stop the vote count, this crime could be established,” McQuade said.
“Far too dangerous”
Bringing criminal charges against a former president would be unprecedented, legal experts said. And if Trump declares his presidential candidacy in 2024, the Justice Department may be in a delicate position. Trump’s office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
If Trump is charged, McQuade said, Trump may portray himself as a martyr on the campaign trail and attack DOJ’s independence and objectivity.
“He would likely file every legal challenge imaginable, resulting in lengthy delays in trial. Charges could result in civil unrest or even civil war. Charges also could create a dangerous precedent for future attorneys general to charge former presidents for less legitimate reasons,” she said. “However, not charging him also creates danger. An important part of criminal charges is deterrence. If not charged, Trump and others would be emboldened to try again.”
Sherman noted that a bipartisan majority of the House and the Senate voted to impeach and convict Trump in January and February of 2021, and the bipartisan select committee “has already presented pretty credible allegations of criminal misconduct by the president.”
“The alternative, which is allowing a president of any party to be lawless without consequences, is far too dangerous,” Sherman said. “To not investigate and potentially pursue charges against the president, for fear being appearing to be political is, itself, political.”
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