After Whirlwind Week, Trump Is In Growing Legal And Political Jeopardy

After Whirlwind Week, Trump Is In Growing Legal And Political Jeopardy

Updated on July 29, 2022 10:42 AM by Anthony Christian

The Justice Department

For months, it was unclear whether the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, could overcome his obstruction and penetrate his West Wing. Baffled critics complained the Justice Department wasn't puncturing his inner circle to examine whether his efforts to steal the 2020 election broke the law.

But now, critics who, through two impeachments, a Russia probe, and multiple scandals, came to share Trump's belief he could shoot someone on New York's Fifth Avenue and get away with it since his impunity may be for the first time in question.

Perceptions Of Trump’s Political And Legal Jeopardy

A whirlwind few days in Washington have upended perceptions of Trump's political and legal jeopardy related to his attempted coup after he lost the 2020 election. Revelations that ex-White House aides have been brought before a grand jury have blown the lid off a Justice Department investigation.

Attorney General Merrick Garland's public statements that the department will pursue those who tried to disrupt the legal transfer of power appear to spell trouble for Trump since the House panel has shown he was at the center of multiple Venn diagrams of election plots.

It has also called into question the narrative of a timid attorney general wary of investigating an ex-President, given the turmoil such an approach could trigger.

Related: Donald Trump Still A Vibrant Threat To Democracy As He Back To DC

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Parallel Justice Department

This is especially the case since news broke Wednesday that Cassidy Hutchinson, the former aide to ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and the star witness of the January 6 committee's televised hearings, is cooperating with the parallel Justice Department probe.

A day after it emerged, two former senior aides to then-Vice President Mike Pence, Marc Short, and Greg Jacob, had gone before the grand jury. That development was the most unambiguous indication that the Justice Department was looking at conduct directly related to Trump and his closest allies.

The department has also obtained a second warrant to search the cell phone of conservative lawyer John Eastman, a key figure in the plan to thwart the certification of Biden's victory on January 6, 2021.

House Select Committee

It is hard to know how long the Justice Department's investigation into the post-election period has been running at such high intensity. But there is at least a strong impression now that it is feeding off the progress made by the House select committee, a factor that would lend that probe increased legal and historical significance.

There are new developments in the House investigation too. After expanding its inquiry into the fall with the promise of more televised hearings, the select committee has been engaging with another key figure in Trump's administration, Mike Pompeo. The ex-secretary of state and CIA director could sit for a closed-door deposition as soon as this week, multiple sources familiar with the committee's schedule told CNN.

Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee's vice chair, told CNN over the weekend that the investigation was focusing on getting testimony from other members of Trump's Cabinet.

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New Audio Of Ex-Acting Defense Secretary

In another blow to the ex-President, the House select committee released new audio of ex-Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller testifying under oath that no one had given an order to have National Guard troops ready to protect the US Capitol on January 6.

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Trump And meadow's New Evidence

The new evidence contradicts claims by Trump and Meadows. And it also appears to damage future efforts by Republicans to use their investigation if they win back the House in November to show that Trump did protect the Capitol and that the real issue on January 6 was not the attack by his mob but security failings that they lay at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's door.

New open loops in Washington coincide with what was previously seen as the gravest legal threat to Trump, the special grand jury probe in Georgia into pressure by the ex-President and his team to overturn a critical swing state election.

Activity doesn't necessarily imply results in legal proceedings. The Justice Department probe could wrap without indictments. Any criminal action it takes may not reach as high as Trump.

And while the House select committee is preparing a devastating catalog of Trump's post-election conduct, its findings may not make a dent in the ex-President's fervent base that rejects investigations against him as politically biased.

The Mountain Of Evidence

There are also questions over whether the mountain of evidence the panel has unearthed showing dereliction of duty by the ex-President in inciting a mob that ransacked the Capitol reaches the evidentiary standard required of a court proceeding.

And, of course, the ex-President had skipped free of accountability for much of his colorful business and political career, often when his enemies thought they had him pinned down.

Another CNN legal analyst, Norm Eisen, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, zeroed in on Garland's pledge in an NBC News interview to pursue anyone who attempted "to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to the other."

Eisen told CNN's Ana Cabrera on Wednesday that we hadn't heard these magic words. He added that all the evidence suggested that one person was in charge of attempting to interfere with the lawful transfer of power, the former commander-in-chief.

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Legal Peril

The growing momentum in the parallel investigations comes as Trump mulls the launch of his potential 2024 White House bid. The former President will undoubtedly claim that any legal action against him is an illicit and politically motivated effort to keep him from recapturing the presidency.

During a speech in Washington on Tuesday that felt a lot like a soft campaign rollout, the former President accused Democrats of weaponizing the Justice Department against the opposition party.

Garland has made clear in recent days that the department would not be deterred from its duty to the law if the person in question was a former President or was running a presidential campaign.

While Democrats have long hoped that the web of investigations would finally trip up Trump or damage him as he seeks a return to the office, the Justice Department investigation suggests that a tense political period could loom.

The possibility that a former President could be under direct criminal investigation is grave. In normal circumstances, it could be politically divisive. Given Trump's temperament and willingness to rupture national unity and incite his followers against democratic and judicial institutions, the impact of legal action against him could be ruinous in an internally polarized nation.

But it appears to be becoming more likely that the country will have to wrestle with whether a former President should be legally held to account and the implications of not doing so.

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