The January 6 hearings fuel the question: Did Trump commit a crime?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Jan. 6 House committee heard dramatic testimony from former White House aides and others about Donald Trump’s tireless efforts to overthrow the 2020 election — and his encouragement to supporters who stormed the US Capitol determined to achieve their goal. But the big question remains: was it criminal?

Trump’s White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson added new urgency to the issue on Tuesday as she delivered explosive new testimony about Trump’s actions before and during the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising. She said Trump had been told there were armed protesters at his morning rally before taking the stage and telling them to “fight like hell” at the Capitol. Then he got into a fight with his security detail, she said, trying to keep up with the crowd.

Trump aides knew there could be legal ramifications. Hutchinson said White House attorney Pat Cipollone told him ‘we’re going to be charged with every crime imaginable’ if Trump went to the Capitol that day as Congress certified the president’s victory Joe Biden. Cipollone said Trump could face charges of obstructing justice or defrauding the voter 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 although he provided an “informal interview” on April 13, his refusal to provide testimony official issued their subpoena. necessary.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Mark Meadows when he was White House chief of staff in the Trump administration, is sworn in as the House Jan. 6 Select Committee holds a public hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday .

The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Justice Department recently expanded its investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, targeting some of Trump’s allies in Washington and across the country who participated in his scheme to invalidate Biden’s victory. But prosecutors have not indicated whether they will press charges against the former president.

An overview of potential crimes and what Congress and the Justice Department could do:

What did the evidence show?

Witnesses said Trump was repeatedly told by campaign aides and senior government officials that he had lost the election to Biden and that his allegations of widespread voter fraud were out of touch with reality.

Yet he continued, shouting out the false allegations that culminated in the Capitol riot.

Still in office, he relied on the Department of Justice to get government law enforcement officials to take up his cause. He lobbied the states – asking Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” votes, for example – and Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the joint session of Congress that day.

Hutchinson testified that Trump said he wanted metal detectors removed from the area near where he was giving a speech on Jan. 6. He said he didn’t care that supporters, who had to go to the Capitol, were carrying guns because they weren’t there to hurt him.

Trump took to his social media website on Tuesday to deny much of Hutchinson’s testimony, which was based on both his own interactions with Trump and information from others who spoke to him that day- the.

Have any crimes been committed by Trump?

He has not been charged, but legal experts say the testimony, assuming it can be corroborated, gives prosecutors some leads to follow.

Federal law, for example, makes it a crime to incite, organize, encourage or promote a riot like the one that enveloped the Capitol. But that’s a high bar for prosecutors to cross. Trump’s urge to “fight like hell” could be interpreted as a more general call to action. He was acquitted by the Senate of an incitement charge during his impeachment trial after the uprising.

Yet a federal judge in February, in rejecting a request by Trump to dismiss conspiracy charges against Democratic lawmakers and two Capitol police officers, said Trump’s remarks “plausibly” led to the riot. And Hutchinson’s first-hand account of hearing Trump complain about metal detectors suggested he was aware some supporters were capable of violence, but ignored it.

A more likely prosecution option, said Jimmy Gurule, a former federal prosecutor who is a law professor at Notre Dame, would be to prosecute a case in which Trump conspired to defraud the United States through his high-profile efforts to cancel the elections and obstruct. the Congressional procedure in which the results had to be certified.

This sweeping law was cited by the House committee when it claimed in a March legal filing that it had evidence that Trump engaged in a “criminal conspiracy.”

“He was perpetuating the big lie. To what end? To stay in power and prevent Biden from assuming the reins of the presidency,” Gurule said. “It was a fraud against the American people.”

Some legal experts say it doesn’t matter whether Trump thinks the election was stolen or not. But others say much would depend on the president’s intent and mindset and whether he supported activities he knew were illegal. Although witnesses have testified under oath to have told Trump he lost, it would be difficult to prove what he actually believed.

“I can say with confidence that any serious criminal-level federal crime that is going to be charged here will require proof beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal intent,” said Samuel Buell, a criminal law professor at Duke University.

“Any argument that he doesn’t believe he’s doing something that’s against the law … is always an argument he can make and always something the prosecutor has to prove.”

Will the Department of Justice actually bring a case?

It’s anyone’s guess. Congressional hearings have produced stunning testimony, but the one-sided presentation of facts, without the ability to cross-examine witnesses, falls far short of the burden of proof and trial constraints in criminal prosecutions.

One of Hutchinson’s most vivid accounts — that Trump, furious at being driven to the White House instead of the Capitol on Jan. 6, tried to grab the steering wheel of his presidential vehicle — was something she said. heard second-hand, probably inadmissible in front of a jury.

There are clear signs that prosecutors are moving beyond the rioters, signing subpoenas last week to several state Republican Party chairmen to review a plan by Trump allies to create surrogate voter lists. or false for the purpose of overturning the vote.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, a former Federal Court of Appeals judge and circumspect by nature, promised the Justice Department would hold wrongdoers accountable “at all levels” – more than 800 people have been charged so far — but he hasn’t said one way or another that he’s considering a case against Trump.

Some Democrats in Congress have urged Garland to act. The January 6 committee itself could proceed with a formal criminal referral based on its more than 1,000 interviews. The Justice Department would not have to act on such a referral, but it pressured the panel to turn over its interview transcripts as it mulls its own case.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.

There are no legal obstacles to prosecuting Trump as a former president. Since he is no longer in office, the legal opinions of the Department of Justice that protected him from criminal charges no longer apply.

But while it may be difficult for the department to walk away from a case if the cumulative evidence is provable beyond a reasonable doubt, there are other factors to consider. No former president has ever been prosecuted by the Justice Department, and a criminal case against the already polarizing former president risks further dividing the country.

Trump has also laid the groundwork for another presidential election, and the department may want to avoid any perception that he is targeting a political opponent of Biden in the heat of the moment.

“It will be,” Buell said, “one of the toughest problems a U.S. Attorney General has ever faced.”

The Huffington Gt

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