Opinion The legal system is working better against Trump than you might think

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HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Jennifer Rubin
Columnist |
October 27, 2022 at 11:39 a.m. EDT


This might surprise some skeptics, but the judicial system is working fairly well to address lawless MAGA characters, including Donald Trump.
Even the Supreme Court, which has gone off the rails to achieve right-wing partisan ends, has not bailed out the former president. The court recently rebuffed his appeal of a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit allowing the investigation into documents at his Mar-a-Lago Club to proceed. This and other cases involving Trump should give Americans confidence about the ability to hold him and his cronies accountable.


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As of this month, more than 880 people have been arrested and charged with crimes stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the Justice Department reports. More than 400 pleaded guilty while “[a]pproximately 280 federal defendants have had their cases adjudicated and received sentences for their criminal activity on Jan. 6. Approximately 152 have been sentenced to periods of incarceration.”







In fact, every case that has gone to a jury has resulted in conviction. The Justice Department reports, “21 individuals have been found guilty at contested trials, including one who was found guilty in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Another 5 individuals have been convicted following an agreed-upon set of facts. Nine of these 26 defendants were found guilty of assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers.”


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Substantial sentences have been handed out, including a 10-year sentence for a former New York City police officer. In the current trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and four cohorts, conviction on a single seditious conspiracy charge could carry a 20-year prison term. Former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon was also convicted of contempt of Congress, the first such conviction in decades.
And the investigation into the coup attempt continues. The Justice Department has executed search warrants to seize phones and other records from a wide variety of figures, including former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and Trump lawyer John Eastman. Federal prosecutors have also marched senior aides from Trump’s White House before a grand jury, including top aides to former vice president Mike Pence.







The Justice Department is now going to court to breach the “firewall” of privilege to compel figures such as former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and former deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin to testify fully about their interactions with Trump. (Both provided some testimony to the House Jan. 6 select committee.)
Moreover, previous attempts to block subpoenas based on attorney-client privilege have failed. Federal Judge David Carter has repeatedly found that there is a basis to find that Trump and Eastman engaged in possible crimes, thereby eliminating the privilege claim Eastman raised.
In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has moved full-steam ahead with a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempt to pressure state officials into “finding” enough votes to flip the state to him. Courts have upheld subpoenas for a long list of Trump enablers to testify, including former Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and a batch of phony electors. Federal courts have also ordered Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) to testify, though Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas temporarily blocked the subpoena.







Massive cases against Trump and his business are also underway in New York, including one criminal tax fraud case against his company and one civil suit against him and others stemming from allegedly inflated and fraudulent property evaluations (which he has denied). Adverse verdicts may effectively shut down his businesses in New York. While the New York City district attorney has not brought criminal charges against Trump, its office has received a referral from the New York attorney general.
Finally, there’s the Mar-a-Lago case. The Justice Department received its search warrant based on probable cause that classified documents were stashed at the former president’s estate. Trump’s lame attempt to stymie the investigation sputtered; Judge Aileen Cannon’s widely panned ruling to stop the Justice Department from proceeding was thwarted at the 11th Circuit and then rejected unanimously and without comment from the Supreme Court.
Retired judge Raymond Dearie, tasked by Cannon to serve as special master to review the documents, has rebuked Trump’s efforts to raise bogus privilege claims. A final showdown on those claims is set for Nov. 8. Nothing Cannon has done would prevent the Justice Department from bringing felony charges against Trump for violating the Espionage Act or for obstructing justice.







Witnesses are feeling squeezed in that case, too. The New York Times reports, “Federal prosecutors investigating former president Donald J. Trump’s handling of national security documents he took with him from the White House have ratcheted up their pressure in recent weeks on key witnesses in the hopes of gaining their testimony.” As Just Security’s Ryan Goodman tweeted, the Justice Department “appears to be narrowing in on criminal target: Trump.”
In other words, the legal system has steadily moved along despite threats of violence and massive disinformation. Norman Eisen, a Brookings Institution fellow and former counsel to the House impeachment managers during Trump’s first impeachment hearing, observes, “Certainly, we would all like all of this to move more quickly, but it is moving and may well produce charges in the months ahead.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland is following the facts and the law all the way to the Oval Office. State prosecutors in Georgia and New York have taken their duties seriously, pushing forward on multiple fronts. Trump’s wealth certainly allows him to employ a raft of lawyers to throw up delay after delay. But that wealth — sapped by monstrous legal fees and subject to a possible civil verdict in New York — has not insulated him from the risk of prosecution.
The cases stemming from the coup attempt, Trump finances and the Mar-a-Lago search are not complete. That’s not necessarily any surprise given the scope and seriousness of each inquiry. By the same token, no one has decided to halt the investigations simply because Trump is a former president.
That should give Americans confidence in prosecutors and the courts. We might still be a nation of laws.

 

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