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Closing in on Trump

The recent evidence gathered by investigators revealing that former president Donald Trump insidiously supported the “big lie” campaign could be consequential for him and will ratchet up pressure on the US justice department to act against him.

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By Kenneth Tiven in Washington

Told by close advisers in November 2020 that he had lost the election, former US president Donald Trump insisted on lying about this because other advisers told him a plan might work to keep him in the White House.

It did not. And investigators have gathered evidence of what Trump said and did then.

However, Trump keeps claiming a stolen election, hinting in his fund raising that he will seek the Republican nomination again in 2024. He may not have helped himself when he talked admiringly about how smart Russian President Vladimir Putin was to invade Ukraine. Polling makes clear that he has not gone over well with moderate voters he needs to win any national election.

This starts with John Eastman, the lawyer who told Trump that the electoral college could be pressured to not accept the victory of Joseph Biden. Eastman is fighting the subpoena from the House of Representatives’ investigating Committee.

Answering Eastman’s objections, the lawyers for the Committee filed a brief in civil suit to force Eastman to produce his emails. Their brief used explicit sworn testimony to make clear that Trump disregarded what he was told, unworried about the falsehood.

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“The president said something to the effect of: ‘What do I have to lose? If I do this, what do I have to lose?’” is what Richard P Donoghue, a former senior justice department official, told the Committee, adding: “I said: ‘Mr President, you have a great deal to lose. Is this really how you want your administration to end? You’are going to hurt the country.’”

The Committee’s legal brief also reveals that Pat A Cipollone, the White House counsel, also tried to get Trump to stop pursuing baseless claims of fraud. Cipollone pushed back against a plan from rogue justice department lawyer Jeffrey Clark. Rogue because without official permission, he went to Trump suggesting to distribute official letters to multiple state legislatures falsely alerting them that the election may have been stolen and urging them to reconsider certified election results. Cipollone testified that he told Trump that the “letter that this guy (Clark) wants to send is a murder-suicide pact”.  

Information previously revealed by the Committee indicates that in the two months after the election, a strenuous effort to support the “big lie” campaign was coordinated by Trump, especially his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, as well as national and state Republicans.

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The filing also stated there was evidence that Trump’s repeated lies that the election had been stolen amounted to common law fraud. “As the president and his associates propagated dangerous misinformation to the public,” the filing said. Eastman “was a leader in a related effort to persuade state officials to alter their election results based on these same fraudulent claims.”

No American president has ever been convicted of wrongdoing, although Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached for criminal offences he masterminded during his re-election campaign in 1972.

The Committee also requested the judge to privately review information from 550 interviews with top aides to Trump, Justice department and state officials.

The House probe had issued a subpoena to Eastman in January, citing a memo he wrote proposing how Vice President Mike Pence could cause Congress to postpone and then invalidate the 2020 election results. Trump has complained loudly that Pence was a traitor for not doing as asked. In his law suit, to prevent turning anything over, Eastman sought to shield from release documents he said were covered by attorney-client privilege.

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In response, the Committee argued—under the legal theory known as the crime-fraud exception—that the privilege does not cover information conveyed from a client to a lawyer if it was part of furthering or concealing a crime.

“The evidence supports an inference that President Trump, plaintiff and several others entered into an agreement to defraud the United States by interfering with the election certification process, disseminating false information about election fraud, and pressuring state officials to alter state election results and federal officials to assist in that effort,”

-according to the filing.

The Committee does not have prosecuting power. All of this information has no doubt been handed to the justice department, which under the US law is not the president’s lawyer, but the nation’s lawyer, a major distinction though Trump ignored it completely while in office.

This will ratchet up pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to make public what his team of lawyers are doing in this matter. It helps explain why various groups opposed to Trump ever running again for public office are so insistent that the justice department act. Under department rules, its work in progress is not public. This doesn’t mean they are not working on it.

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The filing also made a reference to a recent ruling in a civil suit in Washington, in which Judge Amit P Mehta of the Federal District Court found that it was “plausible to believe that the president entered into a conspiracy with the rioters on January 6, 2021”.

Trump also faces a civil suit in New York State for falsification of financial documents used to obtain bank loans for various projects. That civil suit also threatens both his daughter Ivanka and his son Donald Trump Jr. Third child, Eric Trump, answered 500 questions when deposed in the case with “I refuse to answer” based on the Constitution’s fifth amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

If Trump wants to applaud Putin, it should be for seizing the global media spotlight.

—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels

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