Posts tagged with "Attorney General Merrick Garland"

Judge grants Trump’s request for special master to review Mar-A-Lago documents

September 6, 2022

A federal judge will appoint a special master to sift through nearly 13,000 documents and items that the FBI seized on August 8 from Donald Trump’s Florida residence and club, Mar-a-Lago, and identify any that may be protected by attorney-client or executive privilege, according to a court order posted on Monday, September 5, reports The Washington Post.

U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon—who was nominated by Trump in 2020—wrote in her decision that the Justice Department cannot continue reviewing the materials seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago or use them in its criminal investigation until the special master concludes his or her assessment.

But Cannon ruled that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would be allowed to continue its ongoing assessment of the possible risk to national security posed by the removal from government custody of classified documents, some of them related to highly sensitive government and intelligence secrets.

In her opinion, Cannon sided with Trump’s legal team and said that the former president does retain some executive privileges after leaving office—a stance that the Justice Department disagrees with.

“The Court hereby authorizes the appointment of a special master to review the seized property for personal items and documents and potentially privileged material subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege,” the ruling states.

Justice Department spokesperson Anthony Coley said the government “is examining the opinion and will consider appropriate next steps in the ongoing litigation.” A representative for Trump immediately returned requests for comment on the ruling.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that an objective outside expert should review the thousands of White House and government documents that were kept at Mar-a-Lago despite months of efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Justice Department, to get them back.

In addition to identifying whether any of the documents should be shielded from prosecutors because of attorney-client or executive privilege, lawyers for the 45th president said, such a review would boost “trust” in the ongoing criminal investigation over the possible mishandling of classified documents after Trump left the White House.

Trump and his lawyers and allies have accused the Justice Department of having political motives in conducting the investigation and of unnecessarily escalating it into a criminal probe.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has declined to discuss the ongoing investigation, in keeping with general Justice Department practice. But he said days after the August 8 search of Mar-a-Lago that “Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly without fear or favor. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.”

While the FBI raid of Trump’s Florida residence and private club has triggered an outpouring of condemnation from the former president and his Republican allies, some Republicans have said the search may have been necessary.

In an interview that aired Friday, former Trump attorney general William P. Barr said there is no reason classified documents should have been at Mar-a-Lago after Trump was no longer president.

People say this was unprecedented,” Barr said in an interview with Fox News. “But it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, okay?”

In opposing the appointment of a special master, Justice Department lawyers told Cannon they had already sorted through the documents, using a “filter team” to separate out more than 500 pages of potentially privileged documents. That arrangement was approved by a U.S. magistrate judge who authorized the Mar-a-Lago search warrant.

Prosecutors said appointing a special master would be pointless, given the previous filter team review—but Cannon disagreed. They also said that there was no legal basis to appoint a special master in this case and that Trump had no rights to possess White House documents once he left office.

On Friday, September 2, Cannon unsealed a detailed inventory list of items seized from Mar-A-Lago. It showed that Trump intermingled classified and unclassified materials in boxes at Mar-A-Lago and had dozens of empty folders that bore a “classification” marking.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Trump’s legal team scrambles to find an argument

August 30, 2022

On May 25, one of former President Donald Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to a top Justice Department official, laying out the argument that his client had done nothing illegal by holding onto a trove of government materials when he left the White House, reports The New York Times.

The letter, from M. Evan Corcoran, a former federal prosecutor, represented Trump’s initial defense against the investigation into the presence of highly classified documents in unsecured locations at his members-only club and residence, Mar-a-Lago.

According to the Times, “It amounted to a three-page hodgepodge of contested legal theories, including … Corcoran’s assertion that Trump possessed a nearly boundless right as president to declassify materials and an argument that one law governing the handling of classified documents does not apply to a president.”

Corcoran asked the Justice Department to present the letter as “exculpatory” information to the grand jury investigating the case.

Government lawyers found it deeply puzzling. They included it in the affidavit submitted to a federal magistrate in Florida in their request for the search warrant they later used to recover even more classified materials at Mar-a-Lago—to demonstrate their willingness to acknowledge Corcoran’s arguments, a person with knowledge of the decision said.

As the partial release of the search warrant affidavit on May 26—including the May 25 letter—illustrated, Trump is going into the battle over the documents with a hastily assembled team. The lawyers have offered up a variety of arguments on his behalf that have yet to do much to fend off a Justice Department that has adopted a determined, focused, and, so far, largely successful legal approach.

“He needs a quarterback who’s a real lawyer,” said David I. Schoen, a lawyer who defended Trump in his second Senate impeachment trial.  Schoen called it “an honor” to represent Trump, but said it was problematic to keep lawyers “rotating in and out.”

Often tinged with Trump’s own bombast and sometimes conflating his powers as president with his role as a private citizen, the legal arguments put forth by his team sometimes strike lawyers not involved in the case as more about setting a political narrative than about dealing with the possibility of a federal prosecution.

“There seems to be a huge disconnect between what’s actually happening—a real live court case surrounding a real live investigation—and what they’re actually doing, which is treating it like they’ve treated everything else, recklessly and thoughtlessly,” Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and FBI official, told the Times regarding Trump’s approach. “And for an average defendant on an average case, that would be a disaster.”

Trump’s team has had a few small procedural wins. On Saturday, a federal judge in Florida signaled that she was inclined to support Trump’s request for a special master to review the material seized by the government in the search of Mar-a-Lago on August 8.

It is not clear how much the appointment of a special master would slow or complicate the government’s review of the material. Trump’s team has suggested that it would be a first step toward challenging the validity of the search warrant; but it also gives the Justice Department, which is expected to respond this week, an opportunity to air new details in public through their legal filings.

Some of the Trump lawyers’ efforts have also appeared ineffective or misdirected. Corcoran, in his May 25 letter, made much of Trump’s powers to declassify material as president, and cited a specific law on the handling of classified material that he said did not apply to a president. The search warrant, however, said federal agents would be seeking evidence of three potential crimes, none of which relied on the classification status of the documents found at Mar-a-Lago; the law on the handling of classified material cited by Corcoran in the letter was not among them.

According to the Times, two lawyers who are working with Trump on the documents case—Corcoran and Jim Trusty—have prosecutorial experience with the federal government. But the team was put together quickly.

Trusty was hired after Trump saw him on television, people close to the former president have said. Corcoran came in during the spring, introduced by another Trump adviser during a conference call in which Corcoran made clear he was willing to take on a case that many of Trump’s other advisers were seeking to avoid, people briefed on the discussion said.

Trump’s allies have reached out to several other lawyers, but have repeatedly been turned down.

Corcoran, in particular, has raised eyebrows within the Justice Department for his statements to federal officials during the documents investigation. People briefed on the investigation say officials are uncertain whether Corcoran was intentionally evasive, or simply unaware of all the material still kept at Mar-a-Lago and found during the August 8 search by the FBI.

Corcoran did not respond to a request for comment. Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for Trump, said only that Trump and his legal team “continue to assert his rights and expose the Biden administration’s misuse of the Presidential Records Act, which governs all pertinent facts, has been complied with and has no enforcement mechanism.”

Even before Corcoran joined the team, Trump’s legal filings in various cases read like campaign rally speeches that he had dictated to his lawyers. The former president has a history of approaching legal proceedings as if they are political conflicts, in which his best defense is the 74 million people who voted for him in the 2020 election.

Trump’s advisers continue to insist that he was cooperating before the search in returning the documents. They also have suggested that they were quick to respond to Justice Department concerns, citing what they described as a request in June that a stronger lock be placed on the door leading to the storage area where several boxes of presidential records had been kept.

Yet the unsealed affidavit showed a portion of a letter from a Justice Department lawyer sent to Trump’s lawyers that did not specify anything about a lock and read less like a request than a warning.

The classified documents taken from the White House “have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location,” the letter read. “Accordingly, we ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.”

During the August 8 search, the FBI found additional documents in that area and also on the floor of a closet in Trump’s office, people briefed on the matter said.

Trump and a small circle within his group of current advisers maintain that he was entitled to keep documents he took from the White House, or that he had already declassified them, or that they were packed up and moved by the General Services Administration — an assertion flatly denied by that federal agency.

Trump, people familiar with his thinking say, sees the attorney general, Merrick Garland, not as the federal government’s chief law enforcement officer, but merely as a political foe and someone with whom he can haggle with about how much anger exists over the situation.

Shortly before Garland announced that he was seeking to unseal the search warrant, an intermediary for Trump reached out to a Justice Department official to pass along a message that the former president wanted to negotiate, as if he were still a New York developer.

The message Trump wanted conveyed, according to a person familiar with the exchange, was: “The country is on fire. What can I do to reduce the heat?”

A Justice Department spokesman would not say if the message ever made it up to Garland; but the senior leadership was befuddled by the message and had no idea what Trump was trying to accomplish, according to an official.

Research contact: @nytimes

Justice Department objects to releasing affidavit used to search Trump’s home

August 17, 2022

On Monday, August 15, the Justice Department contested making public the affidavit used to justify the search of former President Donald Trump’s home in Florida—saying its release would “compromise future investigative steps” and “likely chill” cooperation with witnesses, reports The New York Times.

In a 13-page pleading, filed in a federal court in southern Florida in response to requests by The New York Times and other news organizations to make public the evidence included in the document, prosecutors suggested that the department has undertaken a broad, intensive inquiry into Trump’s handling of some of the most secret documents of the government after he left office.

The prosecutors acknowledged interviewing witnesses in connection with the investigation of. Trump’s retention of the material. They also wrote that releasing the document could compromise the continuing investigation.

“Disclosure of the government’s affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses,” prosecutors wrote. They added that releasing the affidavit could harm “other high-profile investigations,” as well.

One of the reasons proposed by the government for not releasing the affidavit was to protect the identities of witnesses against death threats. On Monday, prosecutors in Pennsylvania unsealed charges against a man accused of repeatedly threatening to kill F.B.I. agents in the days after Trump’s property was searched.

The magistrate judge who signed the search warrant, Bruce E. Reinhart, ultimately will decide whether the affidavit should be released. It is unclear when he will rule on the news media’s request.

According to the Times, “The legal—and political—aftershocks from the search were still reverberating a week after F.B.I. agents appeared at the resort while the president was at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey.”

Trump—who has accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of conducting a politically motivated “witch hunt” and roughly rifling through his family’s possessions—claimed on Monday that the government “stole my three Passports,” in a post on Truth Social, the online platform he founded.

By late Monday, the Justice Department had contacted Trump’s legal team to retrieve the three passports—two of them expired and the third an active diplomatic passport, according to one of the former president’s lawyers, Evan Corcoran, and a spokesman for the department.

In a statement late Monday, the F.B.I. said that it “follows search and seizure procedures ordered by courts; then, returns items that do not need to be retained for law enforcement purposes.”

Garland agreed last week to release the warrant used to search Trump’s private club, but has resisted attempts to make public the underlying affidavit—a far more sensitive document that should contain, among other things, the reasons prosecutors believe there was probable cause that evidence of a crime could be found at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

The investigation into the mishandling of government documents—while known for months—had not been considered to be as significant as the department’s sprawling investigation into the attack on the Capitol, which has been moving closer to Trump and his top advisers.

Federal agents removed top secret documents when they searched Trump’s residence last week as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant made public on Friday.

At least one lawyer for Trump signed a written statement in June asserting that all material marked as classified and held in boxes in a storage area at Mar-a-Lago had been returned to the government, four people with knowledge of the document said.

Even as the former president counterattacked, new details emerged of how Trump and his inner circle flouted the norms, and possibly the laws, governing their handling of government records.

According to two people with knowledge of the situation, Trump and his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, the man who oversaw presidential records in the chaotic closing days of the administration, failed to organize an effort to collect, box, and deliver materials to the National Archives — as prior presidents former Vice President Mike Pence, did.

Instead, they often focused on settling political grievances and personal grudges, they said.

In the weeks leading up to Trump’s departure from the White House, officials discussed what to do about material that he had at various points taken up to the residence and that needed to be properly stored and returned.

By then, the staff secretary, Derek Lyons, known for trying to keep systems in place, had left the administration. Meadows said he would address such issues, according to a senior administration official.

As Mr. Trump sought to hold on to power, two of Pence’s senior aides—Marc Short, his chief of staff, and Greg Jacob, his counsel—indexed and boxed all of his government papers, according to three former officials with knowledge of the work.

Jacob spent the bulk of his final few days in government preparing the final boxes, with the goal of ensuring that Mr. Pence left office without a single paper that did not belong to him, one of the officials said.

Research contact: @nytimes

Trump’s private residence in Florida is searched by F.B.I.

August 10, 2022

Former President Donald Trump said on Monday, August 8, that the F.B.I. had conducted what he referred to as an “unannounced” search of his Palm Beach, Florida, home on the grounds of the private Mar-a-Lago Club, and had broken open a safe—an account signaling a major escalation in the various investigations into the final stages of his presidency, reports The New York Times.

The search, according to multiple people familiar with the investigation, appeared to be focused on material that the former president had brought with him to Mar-a-Lago, when he left the White House. Those boxes contained many pages of classified documents, according to a person familiar with their contents.

Trump delayed returning 15 boxes of material requested by officials with the National Archives for many months, only doing so when there became a threat of action to retrieve them. The case was referred to the Justice Department by the archives early this year.

According to the Times, “The search marked the latest remarkable turn in the long-running investigations into Trump’s actions before, during and after his presidency—and even as he weighs announcing another candidacy for the White House.”

It came as the Justice Department has stepped up its separate inquiry into Trump’s efforts to remain in office after his defeat at the polls in the 2020 election and as the former president also faces an accelerating criminal inquiry in Georgia and civil actions in New York.

Trump has long cast the F.B.I. as a tool of Democrats who have been out to get him—and the search set off a furious reaction among his supporters in the Republican Party and on the far right of American politics. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader in the House, suggested that he intended to investigate Attorney General Merrick Garland if Republicans took control of the House in November.

The Times notes that the F.B.I. would have needed to convince a judge that it had probable cause that a crime had been committed, and that agents might find evidence at Mar-a-Lago, to get a search warrant. Proceeding with a search on a former president’s home would almost surely have required sign-off from top officials at the bureau and the Justice Department.

The search, however, does not mean prosecutors have determined that Mr. Trump committed a crime.

An F.B.I. representative declined to comment, as did Justice Department officials. The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, was appointed by Trump.

Trump was in the New York area at the time of the search. “Another day in paradise,” he said Monday night during a telephone rally for Sarah Palin, who is running for a congressional seat in Alaska.

Eric Trump, one of his sons, told Fox News that he was the one who informed his father that the search was taking place, and he said the search warrant was related to presidential documents.

Trump, who campaigned for president in 2016 criticizing Hillary Clinton’s practice of maintaining a private email server for government-related messages while she was secretary of state, was known throughout his term to rip up official material that was intended to be held for presidential archives. One person familiar with his habits said that included classified material that was shredded in his bedroom and elsewhere.

The search was at least in part for whether any records remained at the club, a person familiar with it said. It took place on Monday morning, the person said, although Trump said agents were still there many hours later.

“After working and cooperating with the relevant Government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate,” Trump said, maintaining it was an effort to stop him from running for president in 2024. “Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Armed man is arrested near home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh

June 9, 2022

An armed man was arrested early Wednesday, June 8,  near the Maryland home of Justice Brett Kavanaugh after making threats against the Supreme Court associate justice, a spokesperson for the court said. The man was taken to the 2nd District Police Station in Bethesda, Maryland, reports The New York Times.

The spokesperson, Patricia McCabe, said the man, who was arrested around 1:50 a.m., was armed, but she did not specify what type of weapon he was carrying. The arrest was reported earlier by The Washington Post. In a statement, the F.B.I. said that it was aware of the arrest, and that it was working with law enforcement agencies.

Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland said in a statement that he had asked Attorney General Merrick Garland in May to increase security outside the justices’ homes.

“I call on leaders in both parties in Washington to strongly condemn these actions in no uncertain terms,” Governor Hogan, a Republican, said. “It is vital to our constitutional system that the justices be able to carry out their duties without fear of violence against them and their families.”

There have been protests outside the home of Justice Kavanaugh and those of the other justices since a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion was published last month—suggesting that the justices are poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to an abortion.

In a bulletin issued on Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security said that after the publication of the leaked draft opinion, advocates for and against abortion rights have “encouraged violence” on public forums, “including against government, religious, and reproductive healthcare personnel and facilities, as well as those with opposing ideologies.”

Research contact: @nytimes

DOJ widens January inquiry to range of pro-Trump figures

April 1, 2022

Federal prosecutors have substantially widened their January 6 investigation to examine the possible culpability of a broad range of figures involved in former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, reports The New York Times.

The investigation now encompasses the possible involvement of other government officials in Trump’s attempts to obstruct the certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory and in the push by some Trump allies to promote slates of fake electors, they said.

Prosecutors also are asking about planning for the rallies that preceded the assault on the Capitol, including the rally on the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, just before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.

The federal investigation initially focused largely on the rioters who had entered the Capitol—an effort that has led to more than 700 arrests. But the Justice Department appears to have moved into a new phase, seeking information about people more closely tied to Trump. This development comes amid growing political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to move more aggressively on the case.

A grand jury sitting in Washington is investigating the rallies that preceded the storming of the Capitol, a person familiar with the matter told the Times.

One of the subpoenas, which was reviewed by The New York Times, sought information about people “classified as VIP attendees” at Trump’s January 6 rally. It also sought information about members of the executive and legislative branches who had been involved in the “planning or execution of any rally or any attempt to obstruct, influence, impede, or delay” the certification of the 2020 election.

And it asked about the effort by Trump supporters to put forward alternate slates of electors as Trump and his allies were seeking to challenge the certification of the Electoral College outcome by Congress on January 6.

Another person briefed on the grand jury investigation said at least one person involved in the logistics of the January 6 rally had been asked to appear.

In pursuing January 6 cases, prosecutors have been assembling evidence documenting how defendants have cited statements from Trump to explain why they stormed the Capitol. And prosecutors have cited in some cases a Twitter post from Trump weeks before January 6 exhorting his followers to come to Washington—a call that motivated extremist groups, in particular.

The expanded criminal inquiry is unfolding just as a separate investigation by the House select committee on the Capitol riot is gathering evidence about Trump’s efforts to hold onto power and weighing the possibility of making a criminal referral of Trump to the Justice Department.

On Monday, March 28,  a federal judge in California, in a civil case involving the House committee, concluded that Trump likely engaged in criminal conduct, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiring to defraud the United States.

Attorney General Garland has given little public indication of whether the Justice Department would consider prosecuting Trump, saying only that the department will follow the facts wherever they lead.

The House committee’s investigators, like the federal prosecutors, also have been interested in the planning and financing of the January 6 rally on the Ellipse and key figures involved in it. Ali Alexander, a prominent figure in the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement and an organizer of the rally, has been cooperating with the House committee. Alexander marched to the Capitol from the rally with Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and Infowars host.

The House panel has also been seeking information from Amy Kremer, the chairwoman of Women for America First, which helped plan the rally.

According to the Times, the committee has also sent subpoenas seeking information to Katrina Pierson, Trump’s former national campaign spokeswoman; Kylie Jane Kremer, the daughter of Amy Kremer and the director of Women for America First; Lyndon Brentnall, the owner of a Florida-based security company who was the “on-site supervisor” for the rally; Maggie Mulvaney, a niece of the former top Trump aide Mick Mulvaney who is listed on the permit for the event; Megan Powers, an operations manager; and Tim Unes, whose company was listed as the stage manager for the gathering.

The criminal charges against rioters so far have ranged from misdemeanors to obstructing Congress in its duty to certify the Electoral College result. The Justice Department also has lodged conspiracy charges against leaders of two of the extremist groups who figured prominently in the Capitol attack, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

Research contact: @nytimes

Lock him up! Senate Dems see good chance of Garland prosecuting Trump

January 18, 2022

Senate Democrats are beginning to believe that there is a good chance the Department of Justice will prosecute former President Donald Trump for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election—and, as part of that effort, for inciting the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, reports The Hill.

Democratic lawmakers say they don’t have any inside information on what might happen and describe Attorney General Merrick Garland as someone who would make sure to run any investigation strictly “by the book.” But they also say the fact that Garland has provided little indication about whether the Department of Justice has its prosecutorial sights set on Trump doesn’t necessarily mean the former president isn’t likely to be charged.  

 Given the weight of public evidence, Democratic lawmakers think Trump committed federal crimes.  However, they also warn that Garland needs to proceed cautiously. Any prosecution that fails to convict Trump risks becoming a disaster and could vindicate Trump—just as the inconclusive report by former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team was seized upon by Trump and his allies to declare his exoneration on a separate series of allegations.

 Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said “clearly what [Trump] did” in the days leading up and the day of the January 6 attack on Congress “falls in the ambit of what’s being investigated and perhaps is criminal.” 

 Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) said it’s up to the prosecutors at the Justice Department whether to charge Trump, although he believes that the former president’s actions on and before January 6 likely violate federal law.  “They have all of the evidence at their disposal,” he said.  

According to The Hill, Kaine believes federal prosecutors are looking seriously at charges against Trump, although he doesn’t have any inside information about what they may be working on.  

 “My intuition is that they are” looking carefully at whether Trump broke the law, he said. “My sense is they’re looking [at] everything in a diligent way and they haven’t made a decision.” 

 “I believe there are federal statutes that are very much implicated” by Trump’s efforts to overturn President Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, Kaine added.  

 Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, “I think anybody who it’s proven had a role in the planning of [the Jan. 6 attack] should be prosecuted—not just the people who broke in and smashed the window in my office and others.” 

 “I think anybody that’s shown to have had a role in its planning absolutely should be prosecuted,” he added. “I mean it was treason, it was trying to overturn an election through violent means.”  

 Asked whether Trump broke the law, Brown said “I’m not going to say he’s guilty before I see evidence,” but he also said there’s “a lot of evidence that he was complicit.”  

 Garland gave Democrats a tantalizing hint when he announced the day before the first anniversary of the January 6 attack that he would prosecute those responsible “at any level” for what he called “the assault on our democracy.” 

“The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law—whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible,” he said.  

 It was a potentially significant statement from an attorney general who otherwise keeps his cards close to the vest.

 On the other side of the equation, a Democratic senator who requested anonymity to comment on the possibility of a federal prosecution of Trump warned that it would take only one pro-Trump juror to derail a conviction and that failure to win any case in court would have disastrous consequences.  

“If you pull the trigger on this one, you have to make sure that you don’t miss, because this is one if you miss it essentially validates the conduct,” the senator warned.

 

Research contact: @thehill

Steve Bannon surrenders to Feds after being indicted for contempt of Congress

November 16, 2021

Former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon surrendered to the FBI on Monday, November 15, after being indicted on contempt of Congress due to his refusal to cooperate with the congressional committee investigating the Capitol riot, reports HuffPost.

A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., indicted Bannon on Friday, November12, on two counts of contempt of Congress. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that Bannon’s indictment reflected the Justice Department’s “steadfast commitment” to showing the American people “by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law, and pursues equal justice under the law.”

Bannon is set to appear before a judge in Washington later Monday. Cameras caught Bannon arriving at the FBI’s Washington Field Office on Monday morning.

As alleged in the indictment, Bannon did not comply with subpoenas issued by the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack before the required deadlines last month. The committee was interested in Bannon because he was “present at the Willard Hotel on January 5, 2021, during an effort to persuade Members of Congress to block the certification of the election the next day” and proclaimed, the day before the attack, that “all hell is going to break loose.”

This is not Bannon’s first run-in with federal prosecutors, notes HuffPost. In 2019, Bannon testified during the trial of Roger Stone, saying that Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign saw Stone as an “access point” to WikiLeaks. And in August 2020, Bannon was indicted in connection with a scheme to fleece Trump supporters who wanted to build a border wall.

In his final hours in office in January, Trump pardoned Bannon, and had previously pardoned Stone in December 2020, just a few weeks before the Jan. 6 attack. Stone was staying at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, where the “war room” of high-level Trump supporters was set up.

The FBI has made more than 650 arrests to date in connection with the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and hundreds more arrests are in the works. While the FBI investigations will answer a lot of questions about individual criminal culpability in the January 6 attacks, it will be up to the House select committee to answer some of the broader questions about what happened that day.

House Select Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Mississippi) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) said that Bannon’s indictment “should send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can ignore the Select Committee or try to stonewall our investigation: no one is above the law.” Thompson and Cheney said they would “not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to get the information we need.”

Research contact: @HuffPost

New January 6 subpoenas increase pressure on AG Garland to set an example with Bannon

November 12, 2021

The House select committee probing the January 6 insurrection placed its credibility and legal clout deeper into the hands of Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday, November 8, with a new flurry of subpoenas targeting cronies of ex-President Donald Trump, reports CNN.

However, for the committee to retain hopes of compelling testimony from the group, the Justice Department must initiate a prosecution against another Trump adviser, Steve Bannon, who already has defied a subpoena.

The former President’s populist alter ego earned a rare Contempt of Congress citation for his intransigence. But two-and-half weeks on, the department has yet to say whether it will act on that gambit and indict Bannon through the Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney’s office.

Without such a move, CNN reports, the committee’s enforcement capacity looks in serious doubt as it races to conclude before Democrats are at risk of losing the House of Representatives in next year’s midterm elections.

There are no current and public signs that Garland is feeling pressure to act quickly. In fact, a deliberative process would comply with his effort to shield the department from politicization after Trump weaponized it to protect himself during a scandal-plagued presidency and in his effort to steal the 2020 election.

But that also means the new batch of six Trump confidants, who have been subpoenaed for their alleged role in amplifying Trump’s lie about election fraud or abetting his coup attempt earlier this year, have reason to replicate the obstruction, at least for now. And even if Bannon is prosecuted, a long process of court cases and appeals could bog down the committee in a legal nightmare.

The six subpoenas issued on Monday targeted conservative lawyer John Eastman, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Trump campaign officials Bill Stepien, Jason Miller and Angela McCallum, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn

According to CNN, such a scenario would not only allow Trump aides to outwit the committee’s efforts to find the truth about the most flagrant assault on a U.S. election in modern history. It could gut the power of Congress in the future and limit its constitutional role of serving as a check and balance on the executive branch.

And it would also mean that Trump, who incited a mob to march on Congress and disrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s election win, would escape a reckoning yet again, even as he and his party paper over his autocratic tendencies ahead of a likely bid for the 2024 GOP nomination. The refusal of Trump’s orbit to submit to scrutiny is nothing new; it was a feature of both his impeachments, including over the insurrection earlier this year.

“If Merrick Garland does not prosecute Steve Bannon, all these other witnesses … they are going to have no deterrent either and they are going to see it as a free-for-all to do what they will. So there is a lot riding on what Merrick Garland decides to do here,” CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said.

Garland refused to discuss his deliberations in an unrelated media appearance Monday. The roughly two-week gap after Bannon’s contempt citation is hardly a lifetime in legal terms, however, so it would be unwise to read anything into it yet.

California Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, a member of the House select committee, said on CNN on Monday evening that the Justice Department needed time to study the case and precedent but said acting to enforce congressional subpoenas was crucial.

“If the Justice Department doesn’t hold Steve Bannon accountable, it only lends credence to the idea that some people are above the law and that cannot be true in this country,” Schiff said on “Cuomo Prime Time.”

Research contact: @CNN

Why is DOJ still defending Trump in E. Jean Carroll lawsuit?

June 10, 2021

The Biden Justice Department is forging ahead with a controversial legal effort started under former President Donald Trump to intervene on Trump’s behalf in a defamation lawsuit brought against him by a writer who says Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s, NPR reports. But the question remains, why?

E. Jean Carroll leveled the accusations against Trump in her memoir published in Jean Carroll leveled the accusations against Trump in her memoir published in 2019. Trump denied the allegations and accused Carroll of lying to sell books.

Carroll sued the then-president for defamation, but the suit has been caught up in litigation since the Trump-era Justice Department attempted to step in on Trump’s behalf and make the government the defendant instead of the now-former president.

In its filing late Monday, the Justice Department—now led by Attorney General Merrick Garland under the Biden Administration—sought to continue its defense of Trump while distancing itself from his alleged actions.

“Then-President Trump’s response to Ms. Carroll’s serious allegations of sexual assault included statements that questioned her credibility in terms that were crude and disrespectful,” Brian Boynton, the acting head of the department’s Civil Divisionwrote in the brief. “But this case does not concern whether Mr. Trump’s response was appropriate. Nor does it turn on the truthfulness of Ms. Carroll’s allegations.”

Instead, Boynton said, it boils down to a few legal questions, including whether a president is an “employee of the government” and whether Trump’s denials were made within the scope of his office. The department said the answer to both questions is yes, and therefore under federal law it said the government should be able to replace Trump as defendant in the case.

If the department were to succeed in its efforts, legal experts said the move would effectively end the case because the federal government can’t be sued for defamation.

According to NPR, Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, slammed the Justice Department’s decision to continue the Trump-era effort to intervene.

“The DOJ’s position is not only legally wrong, it is morally wrong since it would give federal officials free license to cover up private sexual misconduct by publicly brutalizing any woman who has the courage to come forward,” she said on Twitter.

“Calling a woman you sexually assaulted a ‘liar,’ a ‘slut,’ or ‘not my type’—as Donald Trump did here—is NOT the official act of an American president.”

The new filing is the latest development in the case since the Trump-era Justice Department first took the unusual step of seeking to intervene in the lawsuit last year.

The Justice Department and then-Attorney General William Barr came under fierce criticism for the move, which opponents argued was one in a series of actions the department took under Barr that benefited Trump or his friends.

A federal judge in October denied the Justice Department’s initial attempt to step in on Trump’s behalf. Trump appealed the decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, where the matter now stands.

Research contact: @NPR