Will Donald Trump Face Criminal Charges? What We Know so Far
By Ewan Palmer* – Newsweek
Could Donald Trump Face Criminal Charges? Everything We Know So Far
The question of whether Donald Trump could face prosecution has been raised yet again amid reports the January 6 House Select Committee cannot agree on whether to refer the former president to the Department of Justice for investigation.
Trump, who is facing a number of civil and potential criminal inquiries, is the lead focus of the panel’s investigation into the days leading up to the Capitol attack and the apparent attempt to overturn the 2020 election results.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that despite the evidence available to them, the January 6 committee is split over whether to refer Trump to the DoJ and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
According to the report, citing members of the panel and aides, there are concerns that referring Trump will be viewed as a Democratic Congress seeking the prosecution of the former GOP president.
Some panel members suggested any DoJ decision to charge Trump will not come as a non-legally binding referral from the committee.
“Maybe we will, maybe we won’t,” panel member Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, told The Times with regards to a referral. “It doesn’t have a legal impact.”
There are also fears that a criminal referral for Trump will taint the January 6 inquiry as being merely a partisan attack on Trump, or a “witch hunt” to use a phrase often used by the former president.
Trump has frequently accused the committee of being a politically motivated body whose sole purpose is to try and stop him from running for president again.
While a referral for Trump from the January 6 panel, which is not a criminal inquiry, does not hold any weight legally, other public statements may play a bigger influence in the DoJ and Garland’s decision making.
In March, U.S. District Judge David Carter ruled that Trump “more likely than not” committed a felony in trying to stop the certification of President Joe Biden‘s election victory on January 6.
Carter made the finding in a civil case involving Trump lawyer John Eastman’s attempts to withhold more than 100 documents from the January 6 panel and therefore could not recommend a criminal charge himself. The panel believes however that Carter’s ruling is more significant than any referral letter they could offer with regards to persuading Garland to launch an investigation, The Times reported.
There is also the question of whether the panel even needs to formally refer Trump at all given that it already suggested in March 2 court filings that the former president and his associates engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
Speaking to Newsweek, Neama Rahmani, former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, said that even if the committee refers Trump to the DoJ for investigation, there is still a possibility that Garland will not accept the case for prosecution.
“Though the committee may have uncovered some new evidence, most of the information was probably already known to federal prosecutors as a result of the Capitol riot prosecutions,” Rahmani said. “A referral from Congress may not increase that possibility of an investigation, much less an indictment.
“On one hand, a referral increases political pressure on the attorney general to act. On the other, it feeds into Trump’s argument that the investigation is a political witch hunt.”
The DoJ has not given any indication on whether it intends to launch a criminal case against Trump. The January 6 panel has previously expressed its frustration that the department and Garland have not moved quickly enough to charge the former president’s inner circle with contempt after they referred them for refusing to comply with their subpoenas.
Even without a January 6 panel referral, Trump still faces a number of possible indictments putting him at risk of being the first former president in U.S. history to be criminally charged.
In New York, Trump remains under investigation for alleged tax fraud by the Trump Organization despite Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg being reported to have shelved the inquiry into the former president.
In March, The New York Times published the resignation letter from prosecutor Mark Pomerantz, who quit as special assistant district attorney in February amid reports Bragg had doubts about pushing forward with prosecuting the former president.
In his damning letter, Pomerantz said that Trump was “guilty of numerous felony violations” with regards to his “false” financial statements and that it would be “a grave failure of justice” if Bragg fails to prosecute him.
In a statement last month, Trump’s spokesperson Liz Harrington dismissed the claims made by “Radical Left lawyer” Pomerantz regarding Bragg not pursuing “phony” charges against the former president.
“President Trump built a great business, and did nothing wrong. New York should get back to solving their skyrocketing crime problem, rather than spending so much time and energy on partisan witch hunts,” Harrington said.
Despite reports that Bragg was winding down his criminal investigation into Trump’s business dealings without an indictment, the DA issued a statement last week saying the probe is still live.
“While the law constrains me from commenting further at this time, I unequivocally pledge that the Office will publicly state the conclusion of our investigation—whether we conclude our work without bringing charges, or move forward with an indictment,” Bragg said.
“In the meantime, we will not be discussing our investigative steps. Nor will we be discussing grand jury matters. In short, as we have previously said, the investigation continues.”
Willis has been investigating whether Trump committed an offense during a phone call with Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which the former president asked him to “find” 11,780 votes in order to overturn Biden’s win in the state.
In January, Georgia prosecutors asked for a special grand jury to assist in the election fraud investigation, which will be seated from May 2.
While a grand jury cannot issue an indictment, it can issue subpoenas for evidence and focus entirely on gathering evidence against Trump.
The special grand jury will work for no longer than 12 months, announced Christopher Brasher, chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court.
*Ewan Palmer is a Newsweek reporter based in the London bureau. He joined the company in February 2018 after spending several years working at the International Business Times U.K, where he predominantly reported on crime, politics and current affairs. Prior to this, he worked as a freelance copywriter after graduating from the University of Sunderland in 2010.