Jan. 6 riot hearings offer window into potential charges against Trump
With all the information and testimony heard and seen during the three days of hearings into the January 6 riots, perhaps the most important is the window into the potential charges that could be brought against former US President Donald Trump. .
Whatever role Trump played in trying to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election, those charges could include conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct the work of Congress. .
And the hearings may have provided prosecutors with legal ammunition, some experts suggest.
The central question is Trump’s state of mind, says Randall Eliason, former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
“Can he claim some kind of good faith belief that he might have really had a legitimate basis to challenge the election? Or did he know all along that there really was no basis for it, and he still went ahead?”
“And all this evidence of people telling him that was wrong… I think there are definitely potential charges there,” he said.
In its first three hearings, the House panel investigating the riot exposed the beginnings of its case against Trump — that his lies about the 2020 election and his pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to reverses, directly led to the violence of January 6. 2021.
Only the Justice Department, which conducted its own investigation, can bring charges, but the House committee can send the department criminal references.
The committee heard from a number of former aides to Trump, who said they told him at the time that they did not believe his allegations of voter fraud.
“The audiences provide this incredible level of detail, and it comes out of the mouths of the people who were actually there“, Elisason said.
“I mean, they just piled up. There were so many people in his own circle…So that was hugely important.”
Alan Rozenshtein, an associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota, said he thought the hearings made it clear that Trump knew shortly after the election he had lost and “decided he didn’t care. not the truth”.
“Literally every person was telling him – except for [former New York City mayor Rudy] Giuliani – which he lost,” Rozenshtein said.
“I think it’s really important because it touches on the question of motive and intent. Now there’s still the question, motive and intent to do what? To corrupt an official process? To put pressure on people to do something wrong?”
That, Rozenshtein said, remains to be established.
That’s why former Attorney General Bill Barr’s testimony is so important, says New York University law professor Ryan Goodman.
Barr’s testimony, presented via video recording, revealed that he told Trump there was no evidence of voter fraud, that he disagreed with the idea of saying the election had been stolen – yet “there was never any indication of interest in what the real facts were.”
“Very significant” testimonial
“It’s very important,” Goodman said. “If President Trump knew – or was willfully ignorant – that he lost the election, it would be a crime for him to pressure Pence into interfering with the vote count.”
Hearings also heard about a plan by conservative lawyer John Eastman, which he presented to Trump, that sought to reverse Joe Biden’s election victory. That would pressure Pence to reject the vote as he presides over the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress to certify Biden’s victory.
But Greg Jacob, the vice president’s attorney, testified that he pushed back against Eastman’s ideas and that Eastman himself admitted to Trump that it would have violated several provisions of federal law.
It was a “bombshell,” Goodman said.
As for a possible prosecution of Trump, “there is still a lack of testimony on the exact state of [his] spirit and other details,” Goodman said.
“But I still think he has very significant exposure coming out of the hearings so far.”
Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, said it was important to see many of Trump’s former aides and advisers who supported him change their tune.
Now, she said, they say, “‘Oh, well, no, I wasn’t [supporting him]. And that’s what I was telling him because he was wrong, absolutely wrong, about the Constitution and its interpretation. He was wrong about any type of fraud. There was no fraud.'”
But she said the hearings had also been particularly effective in “delivering the story, the whole story” of the events leading up to and including January 6.
“[The committee is] putting it together in a somewhat chronological narrative and a pretty compelling narrative,” Perry said.