Trump criminal probes will proceed — even as he’s candidate

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s early announcement of his third bid for the White House will not shield the former president from the criminal investigations he already faces as a commoner, leaving him legally and politically exposed as he seeks the 2024 Republican nomination.

The Justice Department continues its investigations. And with the midterm elections largely behind us and the 2024 presidential campaign just months away, federal prosecutors have plenty of time to continue their work even as Trump gets on the campaign trail.

“I don’t think the Department will hesitate if Trump nominates himself and anoints himself as the first candidate in the 2024 election,” said former Justice Department prosecutor Michael Weinstein. “I just think they’ll see that when he tries to play the system, as he’s done very successfully in the courts,” and they’re prepared for his “backlash.”

Trump enters the race and faces federal investigations over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results and in the hoarding of top secret government documents at his Florida estate — plus a separate state investigation in Georgia. The Mar-a-Lago investigation has progressed particularly quickly, with prosecutors this month granting immunity to a close Trump ally to secure his testimony before a federal grand jury. Justice Department lawyers in that investigation say they have gathered evidence of possible crimes involving not only obstruction, but also the deliberate withholding of national defense information.

It remains unclear whether anyone will be charged, as well as the timeline for a decision. But former officials say the best way to ensure the outcome is deemed flawless is to conduct a by-the-book investigation that shows no special favor or ill-treatment by Trump’s former high office.

“The public will have the most confidence in what you do, and you will get the most successful results if you treat Donald Trump like any other American,” said Matthew Miller, who served as Justice Department spokesman under former attorney general Eric Holder.

Current Attorney General Merrick Garland has already suggested so, saying last summer in response to questions about Trump and the Jan. 6 investigation that “no one is above the law.” Asked in a televised interview in July how a potential Trump candidacy might affect the department, Garland responded: “We will hold accountable anyone criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the transfer—legitimate, lawful transfer—of power from one administration to the next. .”

Investigating an elected official or candidate for office almost always invites political speculation. The Justice Department’s protocol warns prosecutors against overt action in the run-up to elections, but that’s more of a standard convention than a hard and fast rule. And the 2024 presidential contest is two years from now.

Still, researching a former president or current candidate isn’t easy. This is especially true in the case of Trump, who attacked his own Justice Department during his presidency and harassed his self-appointed attorneys general. He has already criticized the FBI for searching Mar-a-Lago in August, using the episode to raise money from supporters.

Now, with his official candidate, he and his supporters will try to reframe the investigation’s narrative as political persecution by a Democratic government that fears him for 2024.

In fact, a risk for Democrats is that Trump — who declared himself a “victim” during his announcement Tuesday — could again goad his supporters with that argument. On the other hand, the results of last week’s midterm elections suggest he may be more politically vulnerable than many thought, including in his Republican Party.

What about previous investigations of a presidential candidate? There is a recent precedent, albeit under different circumstances.

In 2016, the Obama administration’s Justice Department investigated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for using a private email server as secretary of state. Despite the best efforts of the law enforcement officers working on the investigation to get above the fray, the investigation repeatedly became entangled in presidential politics — in ways that may not have been foreseen when it began.

Then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch expressed regret over a chance encounter she had with Bill Clinton in the closing days of the investigation. Former FBI Director James Comey blamed for damaging Clinton’s candidacy by making detailed public statement why the agency recommended no charges and then for reopening the investigation 11 days before the election.

David Laufman, who oversaw that investigation for the Justice Department as head of the same section now leading the Mar-a-Lago probe, said there is a “surreal disconnect” between the political maelstrom associated with politically charged investigations and the heads-down mentality of a prosecutor determined to just do the job.

“Here we were, conducting a criminal investigation with national security undertones in a manner that was on the front page of every newspaper practically every day,” Laufman said. “And all we could do was get on with doing what we knew had to be done — gather all the pertinent facts needed to assess whether it was appropriate to recommend criminal charges.”

He said he believed the researchers working Mar-a-Lago were the same way, praising their professionalism in the face of public pressure and even concerns about their personal safety.

In the Clinton case, Comey has said he considered recommending a separate special counsel to lead the investigation, though he ultimately did not. The option of a specially appointed prosecutor who would report to Garland also exists here, just as the Trump-era Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to investigate possible coordination between the 2016 Trump campaign. and lead Russia.

It’s not clear how seriously Garland would consider that. A spokesman for the department declined to comment.

Politically aside, the decision whether or not to press charges will ultimately depend a lot on the strength of the Justice Department’s case.

“If the government’s case is exceptionally strong, I think the rule of law will play a predominant role in the attorney general’s analysis,” Laufman said.

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Follow Eric Tucker at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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More about Donald Trump-related investigations:


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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