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OPINION | COLUMNIST: Trump still faces serious legal questions

by Carl P. Leubsdorf The Dallas Morning News | May 23, 2022 at 3:44 a.m.


Convening of a grand jury in Atlanta to examine allegations that Donald Trump pressured Georgia election officials to reverse the 2020 election outcome is a reminder the former president still faces serious legal questions.

But the most serious may revolve around the question of whether he broke any laws in encouraging his supporters to go to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, and try to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden's election.

Ultimately, Attorney General Merrick Garland will have to decide if there is enough of a case for his department to prosecute.

Biden picked Garland, best known as President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee blocked by Senate Republicans in 2016, because of the reputation for moderation and nonpartisanship he gained in 25 years on the federal bench.

But he can't escape the political aspects on an issue on which the country is sharply split. A recent Washington Post poll showed a slight majority favored charging Trump with a crime, but a substantial minority opposed.

But practical and moral responsibility doesn't necessarily mean violation of criminal laws, which presumably requires a stricter standard.

The main federal statute that could be involved in any Trump prosecution says anyone who "corruptly ... obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law" by any federal agency or the Congress is subject to a fine and imprisonment up to five years.

The House committee has already suggested it believes Trump violated that law and a second statute citing anyone who conspires "to defraud the United States." It will undoubtedly air its case in next month's public hearings and its formal recommendations later this year.

In challenging attorney John Eastman's claim that lawyer-client privilege exempted him from testifying, the panel said it "has a good-faith basis for concluding that the President and members of his Campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States."

The panel's chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and its vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), said they believe "Dr. Eastman's emails may show that he helped Donald Trump advance a corrupt scheme to obstruct the counting of electoral college ballots and a conspiracy to impede the transfer of power."

The federal judge in the case--a President Bill Clinton appointee--agreed.

"Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021," wrote U.S. District Judge David Carter.

One potential subject for the hearings is the degree to which Trump cooperated out of public view with those who organized protests between the Nov. 3 election and Jan. 6.

There's no question he encouraged supporters to gather in Washington. "Big protest in D. C. on Jan. 6. Be there, will be wild," he tweeted Dec. 20, 2020.

Speaking on Jan. 6 to his supporters, Trump repeatedly urged them to march to the Capitol "to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard." He said, "I'll be there with you," but went back to the White House.

Testimony from aides and records indicate he spent the day talking to advisers, key supporters and rally organizers. He made no public effort to stop the protesters until several hours after they invaded the Capitol.

Garland vowed last January to hold "all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law." And he has defended his cautious approach.

"We are not avoiding cases that are political or cases that are controversial or sensitive," he told National Public Radio in March. "What we are avoiding is making decisions on a political basis, on a partisan basis."

But his conclusions will have substantial political ramifications.


Print Headline: Still serious for Trump

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