Former US President Donald Trump has announced his renewed candidacy – despite the fact that he is threatened with trouble on several levels. Legally, there is now movement in the Trump case. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the appointment of a special counsel last Friday. The aim of this procedure is to refute the impression of a politically motivated procedure.
Attorney Jack Smith is set to oversee the investigation into Trump. This is necessary because Trump has declared his candidacy for 2024 and incumbent Joe Biden has announced his intention to run as well, Garland said.
Smith, who oversaw war crimes investigations at the International Criminal Court in The Hague from 2008 to 2010 and most recently prosecuted war crimes in Kosovo as a prosecutor at a special court in The Hague, is to oversee two investigations: first, that of the secret government documents Trump used after the on leaving office at his private home, Mar-a-Lago, and which the FBI confiscated in August. And, second, the investigation into the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The new Congress will meet on January 3, 2023
The House of Representatives investigative committee, which accuses Trump of calling on his supporters to attempt a coup, intends to present its final report in the next few weeks. The results of the investigation will also be available to the Justice Department, Democratic MP Zoe Lofgren told CBS on Sunday.
There isn’t much time: when the new Congress meets on January 3, 2023, the Republicans will be in the majority in the House of Representatives and, as they have made clear, will dissolve the committee immediately.
Smith is party politically registered as “independent”. However, whether he is viewed as a neutral special counsel depends on the viewer’s point of view. Conservatives deny that. Media such as Fox News and the Washington Examiner newspaper are already warming up to him.
Republicans sow doubts about the new special counsel
The point in time – a few days after Trump’s announcement – gives them arguments to criticize Garland’s decision as party-politically motivated and as an attempt to legally get rid of Trump so that a Democrat can win in 2024.
Republicans who are not Trump supporters would also be drawn into the ex-president’s camp, a former diplomat who is close to the Republican Party but not Trump told the Tagesspiegel. The Democrats may even want that because they believe Trump is easier to beat than other potential candidates.
Describing Smith as neutral is incorrect, the ex-diplomat said. After all, judges and prosecutors would be appointed by the respective government.
Smith is also alleged to have headed the Public Integrity Section in the Obama administration and successfully brought to justice at least two Republicans: then-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on corruption charges in 2014, and former Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi who was convicted in 2013 of bribery, money laundering and insurance fraud, among other things. Renzi was one of those pardoned by Trump on his last day in office.
There are five major investigations into 76-year-old Trump and his business empire. Everyone agrees that they are complicated and lengthy. At the same time, it is not certain that even one will lead to a conviction and the ex-president will end up in prison.
1. The Secret Documents in Mar-a-Lago
In early August, FBI investigators searched Trump’s Florida home for classified documents. The accusation: Trump illegally stole them from the White House and stored them in his private accommodation, possibly violating an espionage law.
Some of these are top-secret documents. Trump’s lawyers argue that he de-classified as president. At least 15 boxes have been seized or surrendered at Mar-a-Lago, according to the National Archives, which is responsible for storing past-term documents.
The Department of Justice should clarify whether Trump broke the law by storing it on his private property. For this purpose, a grand jury was assembled in Washington, which has already heard witnesses.
2. The storming of the Capitol on January 6th
The main questions here are three: What did Trump say to his closest advisers about possible violence on January 6? What did he know about the plans of right-wing extremist organizations like Proud Boys or Oath Keepers for that day? And did he really believe that the November election had been stolen from him?
The committee of inquiry interviewed many witnesses and reviewed documents. He could recommend an indictment to the Justice Department. Whether that would be successful is unclear. However, Trump could still run for president – and possibly pardon himself if he wins the election. That would then have to be decided by the Supreme Court.
Particularly abstruse: Trump could even run out of prison. Given the country’s deep polarization and his followers’ willingness to believe pretty much anything he says, nothing seems impossible.
3. Lobbying in Georgia
The hard-fought “swing state” of Georgia was particularly prominent in the 2020 election. Biden narrowly won here, and the result in the southern state was ultimately a decisive factor in him replacing Trump in the White House. Trump tried to prevent this.
After the election results were announced, Trump called Georgia’s Secretary of the Interior, Brad Raffensperger, who was in charge of running the election, and demanded that he find the votes he needed to win.
That’s why it’s being investigated now. Trump and his allies are trying to delay the process. His former chief of staff Mark Meadows, Senator Lindsey Graham, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani and Governor Brian Kemp were summoned.
Also accused are 16 people who were supposed to be used as alternative voters to tilt the election results in Georgia in Trump’s favour. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is determined to investigate further.
In the event of an indictment and conviction at the state level, Trump could not pardon himself as president. But if he were his party’s official candidate for 2024, he could campaign for the investigation to be suspended until the election.
4. The Manhattan criminal investigation
In the Manhattan district of New York, the authorities are investigating possible tax offenses against the Trump Organization. Among other things, they gave apartments or cars to executives over a period of 15 years without paying taxes for these benefits.
The trial against Trump’s family holding company began at the end of October. It does not (yet) appear that charges will be brought against Trump personally.
Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the family holding company, negotiated a deal for himself and has already pleaded guilty to 15 charges. So far he has not charged his ex-boss.
5. The New York Civil Action
Attorney General Letitia James announced at the end of September that she would file charges against Trump, his three children Donald Junior, Ivanka and Eric, and the family holding company Trump Organization. James is demanding $250 million back from the Trumps and their holding company. And she wants to dissolve Trump’s real estate empire.
According to the registered Democrat, the ex-president and his children should never run a company in New York again and should not be allowed to buy real estate in the state for a period of five years.
James also announced that he would forward allegations of criminal misconduct to federal prosecutors and the IRS. Whether they will then open proceedings for criminal misconduct remains to be seen. And James must first prove all their allegations.
It is likely that the proceedings will be discontinued against conditions. A trial would not start until October 2023 – and Trump’s lawyers will very likely try to delay the start of the trial further.
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