Saturday, February 4, 2023

Criminal investigation against Trump will continue even if he is the candidate

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — Donald Trump’s early announcement of his third run for the White House won’t shield the former president from the criminal investigations he already faces as an ordinary citizen, leaving him legally and politically Exposed as he tries to win the Republican nomination. 2024 election.

The Justice Department is continuing its investigation. And with the results of the midterm elections now largely complete and the 2024 presidential campaign months away from beginning in earnest, federal prosecutors have plenty of time to continue their work, even as Trump presents himself to voters. start promoting.

Former Justice Department prosecutor Michael Weinstein said, “I don’t think the department is going to falter as a result of Trump nominating himself and positioning himself as the frontrunner for the 2024 election.” “I think they will see that he is trying to cheat the system like he has had great success in the courts,” and are prepared for his “backlash.”

Trump enters the race facing a federal investigation related to his efforts to overturn the 2022 election results and the storage of top-secret government documents at his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Florida, as well as a separate statewide investigation in Georgia. Huh. The residence investigation has moved especially quickly, and this month prosecutors granted immunity to a close Trump aide in order to secure his testimony before a federal grand jury. That investigation, Justice Department attorneys say, not only collected evidence of possible crimes of obstruction of justice, but also included the intentional withholding of national defense information.

It is unclear whether anyone will face charges, and it is not known whether there is a specific date for a decision. But the former officials say the best way to ensure that the result is treated as above rebuke is to conduct an by-the-book investigation that shows no specific favoritism or abusive behavior influenced by the fact that Trump was in the United States. States were the President of America.

“The public will have the greatest confidence in what you’re doing, and you’ll get the best results if you treat Donald Trump like any other American,” said Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman.

Current Attorney General Merrick Garland has indicated as much: In response to questions about the investigation into Trump and storming the Capitol on January 6, 2021, he said last summer that “no one is above the law.” Asked in a televised interview in July how a potential Trump candidacy might affect the department, Garland replied: “We will hold to account anyone who tries to interfere with the transfer of — Legitimate, legitimate transfer – of power from one administration to the next.

Scrutinizing any elected official, or candidate for office, is almost always an invitation to political speculation. Justice Department protocol warns prosecutors not to take direct action before the election, but this is more standard practice than carved in stone. And the presidential race is two years away in 2024.

In any case, it is not easy to investigate a former president or a candidate on the campaign trail. This is especially true of Trump, who has spent much of his presidency attacking his own Justice Department and harassing his own appointed attorney general. He has already criticized the FBI for raiding Mar-a-Lago in August, using the episode to raise money from his supporters.

Now that his candidacy is official, he and his supporters will try to rebuild the narrative of the investigation as political harassment by a Democratic government they fear until 2024.

Indeed, there is a risk for Democrats that Trump — who declared himself a “victim” during his announcement on Tuesday — could once again inspire his supporters with that argument. On the other hand, last week’s midterm election results suggest he may be more politically vulnerable than many thought, including his Republican Party.

And what about past investigations of the presidential candidate? There is a recent precedent, although under different circumstances.

In 2016, the Justice Department of President Barack Obama’s administration investigated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State. Despite efforts by law enforcement officials working on the investigation to stay above ground, the investigation has repeatedly become embroiled in presidential politics in ways that could not have been contemplated at the outset.

Then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch expressed regret for a chance meeting with former President Bill Clinton in the final days of the investigation. Former FBI director James Comey was blamed for undermining Hillary Clinton’s candidacy by giving a detailed public explanation of why the agency was not recommending charges, and then reopening the investigation 11 days before the election. to open from.

David Laufman, who oversaw that investigation for the Justice Department in his role as head of the same branch that is now probing the Mar-a-Lago investigation, said there was a “real disconnect” amid the political turmoil. Which is accompanied by a politically charged investigation. and the focused mindset of a prosecutor determined to get the job done only.

Laufman said, “Here we were doing a criminal investigation with national security significance that practically made the front page of every newspaper”. “And all we could do was continue to do what we knew had to be done: obtain all the relevant facts necessary to make a decision about whether or not it was appropriate to recommend criminal charges.”

He said he believes investigators who worked at Mar-a-Lago behaved similarly, praising their professionalism amid public pressure and even concerns about their personal safety. Did too.

In the Clinton case, Comey has said that he considered recommending a special prosecutor to lead the investigation, although he ultimately did not. There is also the option of a specially appointed prosecutor to report to Garland, just as the Trump administration’s Justice Department hired former FBI director Robert Roberts to handle the investigation into Trump’s 2016 re-election campaign and possible Russia coordination. Mueller was appointed.

It’s unclear how seriously Garland will take it. A department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Politics aside, in the long run a lot will depend on the strength of the Justice Department’s arguments when it comes to deciding whether to file charges.

Laufman said, “If the government’s arguments are exceptionally strong, I think the rule of law will be prominent in the attorney general’s analysis.”


Eric Tucker is on Twitter:

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