Jurisprudence

This Week Dropped Several Legal Bombshells on Trump

Trump in a golf cart with a MAGA hat on.
Donald Trump golfs at Trump National Golf Club on June 21, 2020 in Potomac Falls, Virginia. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

On Thursday, Donald Trump released his latest statement condemning the House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Trump ranted that the “Unselect Committee’s sole goal is to try to prevent President Trump, who is leading by large margins in every poll, from running again for president, if I so choose.”

His frustration is understandable: This week, investigators into the Jan. 6 attack from both Congress and the Department of Justice came closer than ever before to explicitly putting a target on Trump’s back. It’s worth recapping the full week’s revelations just to see how bad it was for Trump.

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First, on Wednesday morning, the select committee announced in a legal filing that it believed Trump might have engaged in a felony surrounding his efforts to subvert the election. The committee argued that  attorney-client privilege couldn’t attach to testimony and documents being kept under wraps by John Eastman, one of the architects of Trump’s plan to disrupt the electoral count on Jan. 6.

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“The Select Committee also 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,” they alleged. Eastman’s testimony and documents would not be protected by attorney-client privilege, the committee argued, due to the crime/fraud exception stating that the privilege is waived when the material under question is part of a criminal act.

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Essentially, the committee said it believes Eastman and Trump took part in a federal crime that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $500,000 fine. As the committee also noted, Eastman exercised his Fifth Amendment against self-incriminating testimony 146 separate times during his December testimony. The filing also revealed for the first time that Eastman wrote to Vice President Mike Pence’s attorney after the Capitol insurrection to make one final plea for Pence to delay the counting of the electoral votes. “I implore you to consider one more relatively minor violation” of the law “and adjourn for 10 days,” Eastman pleaded.

If the vote count had been postponed, Pence and Congress would have been delayed in certifying that Joe Biden had won the election. It would have also given then-President Trump time to do who knows what to thwart the inauguration (he reportedly considered a draft executive order seizing voting machines and several of his close confidants had proposed he declare martial law during that time). Critically, though, Eastman acknowledged in this email to Pence that he knew what he was asking for was a violation of the law. “Plaintiff knew what he was proposing would violate the law, but he nonetheless urged the Vice President to take those actions,” the committee wrote.

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The committee didn’t stop there, releasing damning testimony from Trump’s close aides who said that they repeatedly told him that conspiracy theories around the election were bogus and had been refuted by a Department of Justice investigation. Trump campaign senior advisor Jason Miller, for instance, told the committee that he had “several” conversations with Trump in which he told the president that “specific to election day fraud and irregularities, there were not enough to overturn the election.” Miller also said that he was at an Oval Office meeting while the votes were still being counted during which Trump was told outright he was going to lose the vote. “I remember [campaign data specialist Matt Oczkowski] delivered to the President in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose,” Miller testified.

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In separate testimony, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue told Trump that his claims of fraud had been checked by the Department of Justice and were completely bogus. Even after being told, on multiple separate occasions, that there was no evidence of fraud Trump still threatened to fire Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and replace him with Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Jeffrey Clark who was promising to announce that non-existent fraud had likely happened and to tell state legislatures to reconsider their votes. “The President said something to the effect of, ‘What do I have to lose? If I do this, what do I have to lose?’” Donoghue testified of Trump’s response to pushback to this part of a coup plan.

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Consider the magnitude of this evidence.  Not only did Eastman know what he was doing was illegal, but also Trump was repeatedly told by his own staff that he had lost and that his claims about fraud were wrong. Yet he still went ahead with Eastman’s plan anyway. These facts suggest that both men knew—or were clearly told—what they were doing was wrong and did it anyway, negating attorney-client privilege if a crime was committed.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all for Trump, the committee says it’s possible Trump engaged in a conspiracy with rioters that day, though there is less evidence in the filing to that effect.

“In addition to the legal effort to delay the certification, there is also evidence that the conspiracy extended to the rioters engaged in acts of violence at the Capitol,” the committee wrote.

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On Wednesday afternoon, another (big) shoe dropped regarding potential links between Trump and the Jan. 6 mob. After the Jan. 6 committee’s filing, the Department of Justice announced that a member of the Oath Keepers militia, Joshua James, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy for his role organizing the attack on the Capitol. Why is that bad for Trump? James had previously been photographed as a bodyguard for Trump confidant and political fixer Roger Stone.

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Indeed, the morning of Jan. 6, James was seen in Stone’s private hotel suite at the Willard in Washington D.C. just hours before he joined the assault on the Capitol. James is now going to cooperate with investigators and take part in grand jury testimony, presumably against the other Oath Keeper defendants charged with seditious conspiracy, including Oath Keeper leader Stewart Rhodes, who Stone was also in close contact with in the days before the insurrection, according to public records. James would also presumably have to testify about what he saw in Stone’s “War Room” at the Willard prior to the assault on the Capitol.

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To recap: the DOJ investigation has moved one step closer to Trump, and potentially just one step away from directly implicating the former president via Stone.

As if that wasn’t bad enough for the former president, on Thursday, his son Donald Trump Jr’s fiancée, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who was in close contact with the president on Jan. 6, was hit with a subpoena for her testimony by the Jan. 6 committee.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, Trump got even more bad news on Friday, after his enraged statement against the committee, when the Washington Post reported details of an upcoming documentary by Danish filmmaker Christoffer Guldbrandsen, which details Stone’s activities in the leadup to and aftermath of Jan. 6. Those details are staggering. Guldbrandsen’s documentary reportedly includes footage of James and Stone together; footage of Stone on the phone as the attack was happening; images of Stone’s cell phone showing his connection to Rhodes and to Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio (members of the Proud Boys have also been charged in organizing the assault on the Capitol); and a draft memo Stone wrote to Trump after the Capitol insurrection seeking pardons for himself, others involved in Jan. 6, and even multiple members of the Colombo crime family convicted of murder and racketeering in the 1990s.

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According to the Post’s account of the documentary, when the pardons weren’t delivered, Stone turned on Trump:

Stone unloaded on Donald Trump, saying he had betrayed his friends, deserved to be impeached and was the “greatest single mistake in American history.” 

Stone added that Trump might be vulnerable to prosecution by federal authorities in Manhattan after declining to preemptively pardon himself. 

“A good, long sentence in prison will give him a chance to think about it, because the Southern District is coming for him, and he did nothing,” Stone said. 

Though months later he would support a possible Trump bid for the White House in 2024, on Inauguration Day he mocked the idea. “Run again! You’ll get your f—ing brains beat in,” Stone said.

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Stone had already been pardoned by Trump previously after being sentenced to three years in prison for witness intimidation and lying to investigators to cover up what he and Trump may have known about WikiLeaks’ release of hacked documents of the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election.

After the lack of preemptive pardons, Stone also reportedly wrote a message to another Trump associate: “see you in prison.” Stone doesn’t sound like the most reliable friend for Trump to have at this point, especially since he can no longer dangle pardons in front of his face to keep him quiet. So after a week full of damning revelations, no wonder the former president is upset!

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