Liz Cheney, vice chair of the US congressional committee looking into events surrounding inauguration day 2021 when the capitol building was stormed by violent protesters, said during a hearing at the end of July that, “the dam has begun to break”. Her committee is spending August pursuing “emerging information on multiple fronts” concerning Trump’s attempt to overthrow the result of the 2020 presidential election.
It was an apt description from the de facto leader of the Republican party’s anti-Trump wing. He is facing what the Washington Post has described as as a “churning legal maelstrom” swirling around him and his close allies, “with local, state and federal authorities scrutinizing everything from his namesake business to his handling of classified government documents since leaving office”.
Last week marked a seismic shift and it seems the dam holding back the maelstrom weakened further and is threatening to burst, engulfing the former president with potentially devastating consequences for him, his organisation, and the Republican party. But bad as things are, they are about to get a whole lot worse.
Although Cheney, eldest daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, lost the primary election in Wyoming recently to a Trump supporter, she could stand as an independent Republican in November’s mid-term election and will in any case continue her role on the 6 January committee until then.
New York tax fraud charges
Let’s start with his tax affairs. In 2021, The Trump Organisation was indicted by New York authorities investigating suspected violations of banking, insurance, and tax laws and whether the company had engaged in financial fraud.
Last Thursday, the company’s chief financial officer (CFO) Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges including criminal tax fraud and grand larceny. He has also agreed to give evidence against his former employers. Weisselberg has been ‘flipped’, in the jargon. In return for testifying against the business he worked for, will receive a reduced five month prison sentence and five years probation. This is a fraction of the 15 years he could have faced.
Technically, it is understood that his evidence will be against the company not Trump personally, but investigators have said there is at least one “tax cheat” bigger than Weisselberg in the company, which is presumably either Trump himself or one of his two sons, both of whom are executive vice-presidents.
It’s clear that Weisselberg and his attorneys have been presented with credible evidence which would ordinarily ensure a long stretch on Rikers Island, so there must be significant crimes involved and Trump will surely find it hard to argue he didn’t know about them, although that won’t stop him trying.
Questioned at the New York Attorney General’s office on 10 August, Trump is said to have pleaded the Fifth Amendment (the right to refuse to answer questions that might be self incriminating) more than 440 times and his lawyer later told NBC News the only question Trump actually answered was the one asking what his name was.
As Trump himself said in September 2016 referring to Hilary Clinton’s staff and her use of a private email account:
On the horrifying events that took place in Washington on 6 January 2021, it looks as if Trump’s vice president Mike Pence might be persuaded to give evidence to Cheney’s nine-member select committee at some point.
In a recent interview, Cheney said they had been in touch with counsel representing Pence about his appearance. Asked at an event in New Hampshire last Wednesday if he’d be willing to appear before the select committee, Pence said, “I would consider it”.
Pence became the target of Trump supporters after he agreed to attend Joe Biden’s inauguration and was threatened with being hanged by far-right protesters during the insurrection of 6 January, something Trump himself later apparently described as “common sense”.
He has been a loyal VP right up to the very last moment and if he has ‘flipped’ you can be sure the end is in sight.
Secret files found at Trump’s home
The raid by FBI agents on Trump’s sprawling Palm Beach home on 8 August and the recovery of 12 boxes of files came out of the blue. Some files were said to relate to nuclear weapons and were marked TS/SCI which stands for top secret/sensitive compartmented information. This means the files are the most secret and sensitive of all and should only be read or discussed in a secure compartment. They were in a storeroom in his house.
Shocking though that was, more shocking was the fact that his own lawyers had confirmed to the FBI that the 15 boxes of documents which Trump was forced to return in February amounted to everything he had improperly taken from the White House. That was patently untrue.
A former official at the Department of Justice (DoJ), which is investigating the removal of the classified records, has said, “it’s hard to believe that a lawyer knowingly would have lied to the government about the continued presence of classified documents”. The lawyer who made these assurances to the FBI on Trump’s behalf could now find themselves legally exposed or be forced to become a witness in the case.
We still do not know why Trump wanted the files at all. Republican politicians and sympathetic media figures have suggested various reasons, including that Trump had de-classified the documents or that FBI agents had ‘planted’ them to incriminate him. The latest excuse being implausibly floated is that Trump was holding on to the papers in order to help him write his memoirs.
However – and perhaps this is the most shocking of all – last week a host on Fox News, the Murdoch-owned cable channel that has slavishly supported Trump from the beginning, openly speculated that the former president of the USA might have actually sold the secrets to the Russians or the Saudis. Fox News has also now published an opinion piece: The Trump Mar-a-Lago search was justified with ‘the truth’ about the raid in a move that looks like Trump is being hung out to dry.
And incredibly, unless the man who had to have national security briefings given to him in pictures such was his aversion to reading text, has suddenly acquired an interest into the technical and security aspects of America’s nuclear weapons programme, money remains the most plausible reason.
The author of The Art of the Deal, apparently has a business empire that is said to be in debt to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, so it’s hard to think of anything else.
Trump and his lawyers are now engaged in an effort to get the affidavit used to authorise the raid unsealed and published to see the Justice Department’s reasoning and even the name of the ‘mole’ said to be operating inside Trump’s team. A judge said last Monday that parts of the affidavit should be made public.
Russian interference in the 2016 campaign
It’s not out of the question that Trump could yet face prosecution over the role he played in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign.
Last week a federal appeals court ruled that the DoJ must publish an un-redacted copy of an internal memo prepared in 2019 by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) about whether Trump’s actions during the campaign amounted to crimes which could result in prosecutors laying charges.
Various media outlets had applied to see the memo through a freedom of information request. The DoJ had objected, arguing that virtually the entire memorandum and related records should be exempted on the ground that internal government deliberations should not be made public. The court rejected that argument.
Mueller’s report “did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct” and said, “the evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment”.
The report concludes: “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” [Our emphasis].
William Barr, the attorney general that Trump himself appointed, ruled at the time that a sitting president could not be prosecuted – and he wasn’t.
Barr told Congress in 2019 that he had consulted with the OLC and and determined that the facts of Mueller’s investigation did not support bringing obstruction of justice charges against the president, regardless of what the office had previously said about whether such a prosecution would be constitutional.
Now investigators will get to see the advice Barr was given and whether or not prosecutors believed there was enough evidence to charge Trump. If so, he could find himself facing more serious criminal proceedings. It would open up a whole new front.
The court is now waiting to see what the DoJ might wish to redact from the memo.
Copying election data in Georgia
In Atlanta there is already an ongoing inquiry which could result in charges of conspiracy to commit election fraud or racketeering-related charges for engaging in a coordinated scheme to undermine the result of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump and various associates had numerous interactions with election officials in an effort to ‘swing’ the state in his favour and keep him in office.
Last week the Washington Post revealed that, “Donald Trump-allied attorneys directed a team of computer experts to copy sensitive data from Georgia election systems, part of a broader trend of assorted GOP efforts to copy such data”.
On 7 January 2021, the day after Biden’s inauguration, experts from a forensic data firm travelled to Coffee County, Georgia to collect data from the state’s election/voting machines and systems, and later emailed their client, Trump’s lawyers, that the job was “going well”. The work was done with the connivance of local election officials.
Georgia’s interim deputy secretary of state, told the Washington Post last week:
“Rogue election officials will not be tolerated in Georgia. Prior to this latest disclosure, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and the State Election Board had already looped in appropriate authorities, including criminal law enforcement agencies, to assist in the investigation into the alleged unlawful access in Coffee County. That investigation continues and any wrongdoers should be prosecuted.”
Election authorities in Georgia have said the copies posed a security risk and could have been used to build false narratives about the integrity of the vote.
Given the seriousness of the potential charges that the former host of The Apprentice faces, you would think he would be hiring the most experienced and high-profile legal team that money can buy. But no, his current legal team includes “a Florida insurance lawyer who’s never had a federal case, a past general counsel for a parking-garage company and a former host at far-right One America News”.
Trump is in real jeopardy but is struggling to recruit a strong legal team, something which is being attributed to his habit of ‘stiffing’ vendors, ignoring advice and asking his counsel to do things which are unethical or illegal.
Apparently, on one occasion in 2019, the president was advised not to tweet about the Mueller probe only for his legal team to discover he had tweeted before they reached the end of the West Wing driveway. Several people said it was nearly impossible to represent Trump and that it was unclear if they would ever get paid anyway.
Time is fast running out for Donald Trump.