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Exclusive: DOJ mulls potential special counsel if Trump runs in 2024



Washington
CNN

As Donald Trump moves closer to launching another presidential election after the midterm elections, Justice Department officials have discussed whether a Trump candidacy would create the need for a special counsel to overseeing two sprawling federal investigations tied to the former president, sources familiar with the matter said. CN.

The Justice Department also entrusts its investigations to experienced prosecutors so that it is prepared for any decisions after the midterms, including the unprecedented potential decision to indict a former president.

In the weeks leading up to the election, the Justice Department observed the traditional quiet period of not making any overt moves that could have political consequences. But behind the scenes, investigators have kept busy, using aggressive grand jury subpoenas and secret court battles to compel witnesses to testify both in the investigation into Trump’s efforts to nullify the 2020 election and over his alleged mishandling of national security documents kept at his Palm Beach home. .

Now, federal investigators are anticipating a flurry of post-election activity in Trump-related investigations. That includes the prospect of indictments by Trump associates — moves that could be made more complicated if Trump declares his candidacy for president.

“They can bring charges against almost anyone if they want to,” said a defense attorney working on Jan. 6-related cases, who added that defense attorneys had “no idea of who will ultimately be charged.

“That’s the scary thing,” the attorney said.

Trump and his associates also face legal exposure in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating Trump’s efforts to nullify the 2020 election in the Peach State and plans to wrap up his probe. end of the year.

Indicting an active White House candidate would surely spark a political storm. And while no decision has been made on whether a special counsel might be needed in the future, DOJ officials have debated whether that could insulate the Justice Department from accusations that Joe Biden’s administration is targeting his main political rival, people familiar with the matter have said. CN.

Special counsel, of course, are hardly immune to political attack. Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia and Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation have come under heavy criticism from their opponents.

The Department of Justice declined to comment for this story.

The Justice Department has tapped a brain trust for high-level advice on the Trump investigations, according to people familiar with the moves.

Top justice officials have turned to an old guard of former prosecutors for the Southern District of New York, bringing in Kansas City-based federal prosecutor and national security expert David Raskin, as well as David Rody, a prosecutor turned prosecutor, into the investigations. defense attorney who had previously specialized in gang and conspiracy cases and worked extensively with government aides.

Rody, whose involvement has not previously been reported, left a lucrative partnership at prestigious business defense firm Sidley Austin in recent weeks to become a senior DOJ attorney in the Washington Criminal Division, according to his profile. LinkedIn and sources familiar with the move. .

The DC U.S. Attorney’s Office team handling the day-to-day work of the Jan. 6 investigations is also growing — even as the office’s sedition cases against right-wing extremists go to trial.

A handful of other prosecutors joined the Jan. 6 investigative team, including a senior fraud and public corruption prosecutor who left his supervisory position to join the team, and a prosecutor with years of experience in criminal appellate work now involved in some of the grand jury activity.

Taken together, the reorganization of prosecutors indicates a serious, snowballing investigation into Trump and his inner circles.

The decision to indict Trump or his associates will ultimately rest with Attorney General Merrick Garland, whom President Joe Biden chose for the job because his tenure as a judge kept him away from partisan politics, after Senate Republicans blocked his Supreme Court nomination in 2016.

Exclusive: DOJ mulls potential special counsel if Trump runs in 2024

Several former prosecutors believe the facts exist for a potentially indictable case. But Garland will have to navigate the politically perilous and historic decision of how to approach the potential indictment of a former president.

In March, Garland avoided answering a CNN question about the prospect of a special counsel for Trump-related investigations, but said the Justice Department “doesn’t shy away from controversial, sensitive or political cases.”

“What we will avoid and what we need to avoid is any partisan element in our decision-making on cases,” Garland said. “It is what I intend to ensure that the decisions of the Ministry are made on the merits, and that they are made on the facts and the law, and that they are not based on any kind partisan considerations.

Garland’s tough decisions go beyond Trump. The long-running investigation into Hunter Biden, the president’s son, is coming to an end, according to people briefed on the matter. Also pending behind the scenes: A final decision on the investigation of Republican Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, after prosecutors recommended dismissing the charges.

It likely won’t be long after midterm to focus on the 2024 presidential race. That could prompt senior DOJ officials to make crucial charging decisions as soon as possible, including whether to wear charges against Trump himself or other prominent political activists, according to other sources familiar with the inner workings of the Justice Department.

“They’re not going to charge until they’re ready to charge,” said a former Justice Department official with insight into the thinking around the investigations. “But there will be added pressure to get through reviewing” cases sooner than the typical five-year window the DOJ has to bring charges.

Matters could also be complicated by the situation in Georgia, where Willis is investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results there. Willis said she is targeting a special grand jury to wrap up her investigative work by the end of the year.

Willis has observed his own version of a quiet period around the midterm elections and is seeking to bring witnesses before the grand jury in the coming weeks. Sources previously told CNN that indictments could come as early as December.

Key Trump allies, including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, are among witnesses who have tried to push back against subpoenas in the state investigation. on efforts to interfere with the 2020 elections in Georgia.

How these disputes are resolved in Georgia — including whether courts compel testimony — could improve the DOJ’s ability to gather information, just as the Jan. 6 House Select Committee investigation added to the investigative leads of the DOJ from inside the Trump White House.

The months leading up to the elections provided little respite from the political and legal activity around the investigations. The DC U.S. Attorney’s Office – which is still handling the bulk of the Jan. 6 investigations – has been dealing with burnout within its ranks, as prosecutors prosecute or win guilty pleas from more than 800 rioters who were on Capitol grounds and still looking to charge hundreds more.

Trump also thwarted the DOJ’s efforts to keep things calm in the weeks leading up to the election, leading to a steady barrage of headlines related to the investigation.

Trump’s legal team has successfully implemented a complicated court-directed process to sift through thousands of documents seized at Mar-a-Lago, to determine if they are privileged and off limits to investigators. But the Justice Department and the intelligence community had access for weeks to about 100 files marked as classified that Trump had kept in Florida.

The outcome of the review of information on these documents could determine whether criminal charges will be filed, according to a source familiar with the Justice Department’s approach.

Yet in both investigations, forensic activity under seal never waned, with the Justice Department trying to coerce at least five witnesses around Trump into secretly providing more information in their grand jury investigations in Washington, D.C. DC, CNN previously reported.

On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered Trump adviser Kash Patel to testify before a grand jury investigating the handling of federal cases at Mar-a-Lago, according to two people familiar with the investigation.

DC District Court Judge Beryl Howell granted Patel immunity from prosecution for any information he provides to the investigation – another milestone that brings the Justice Department closer to a possible indictment of the affair.


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