Throughout his epic, scandal-ridden career, Donald Trump has compiled an astonishing record of impunity, constantly staying one jump ahead of prosecutors, plaintiffs and creditors.
He was the only president to have been impeached twice. He was acquitted twice thanks to the votes of Republican senators. He spent nearly three years being investigated for what appeared to be collusion with Russia. But he escaped without a trace.
His ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to prison for hush money payments to an adult entertainer named Stormy Daniels ,. However, “Individual-1”, the man who ordered him write the check, has never been held responsible. This record of escapes would be a envy to Houdini.
Trump is still under the gun. He is still looking for escape routes.
A House Committee is looking into his attempts to reverse last year’s presidential election. This includes his actions on Jan. 31 when a mob of supporters stormed Capitol. 6.
A prosecutor in Georgia is investigating whether he violated state law against soliciting election fraud when he demanded that officials “find 11,780 votes” — the number he needed to undo Joe Biden’s victory in that state. New York prosecutors are investigating allegations that Trump or the family business he manages committed bank and tax fraud.
But don’t count him out. His story is a series lessons that shows you that aggressive lawyering and lots of chutzpah can get almost complete immunity.” Norman Eisen, who was a counsel to Trump’s House Judiciary Committee, said to me.
The former president’s most prominent battles were against the Democratic-led House of Representatives. They asked the Justice Department to bring charges against Stephen K. Bannon , his former aide , after Bannon refused permission to comply with a subpoena.
Trump has ordered Bannon and other former associates to stonewall on the grounds that all of his conversations with them are protected by executive privilege.
That’s the legal doctrine that allows a president to protect internal White House deliberations from congressional snooping, a claim Trump asserted broadly when he was president.
This claim seems absurd. How could a former president claim executive privilege over conversations with someone such as Bannon who was not a government official at that time?
Constitutional lawyers believe Trump has many arguments. He will likely try all of them.
First, a former president does have the right to assert executive privilege. Trump can be grateful to Nixon, his former president. In 1977, Nixon tried to block the federal government from releasing his presidential papers; he lost, but in deciding the case, the Supreme Court declared that former presidents can assert the privilege under some circumstances.
The Justice Department long believed that executive privilege could protect the president’s meetings between nonemployees, as long as they are not about official business. In January, Bannon reportedly urged Trump to block Congress from certifying Biden’s election, then told listeners of his Jan. 5 podcast: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
“If the cases are argued on the merits, Trump and Bannon are unlikely to prevail,” Jonathan Shaub, a former Justice Department lawyer who now teaches at the University of Kentucky’s law school, told me.
“Executive privilege doesn’t apply to acts taken in a personal or political capacity, and it doesn’t apply when there are concrete allegations of wrongdoing.”
But winning may not be the point.
“In end, it’s all about delaying,” Shaub stated.
Trump’s supporters know that if the House committee can be tied in knots up until the 2022 congressional elections, it is likely that Republicans will take control of the chamber and end the investigation.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–San Francisco) & committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D–Miss. You should, too. This is why they requested the Justice Department to bring Bannon on trial for criminal contempt. It’s quicker than a civil lawsuit.
The next step is at the Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland, who has exasperated some Democrats by keeping his distance from the Trump investigations.
President Biden said last week that he thinks Garland should prosecute Bannon and others who reject congressional subpoenas. This was a Trump-style, improper act of presidential jawboning. Garland responded by saying that he wanted the Justice Department back to its apolitical norm.
Biden was correct on the merits. Without the threat of prosecution Bannon and other stonewallers will continue to blockade.
Meanwhile, Trump has made his defense almost entirely political, not only denouncing the House investigation but praising the mob that invaded the capital.
” The insurrection occurred on November 3, Election Day,” he stated in a written statement last Wednesday. Jan. 6 was the protest!”
He’s used the investigation to raise money for his political action committee, which has collected millions.
“The left will not stop following me,” he said in an email to donors last Wednesday. “Please contribute ANY AMOUNT IMMEDIATELY to make a statement to the Left that you’ll ALWAYS stand with YOUR President.”
And there, no matter how the legal wrangles turn out, lies the answer to a persistent question about Trump: What makes him run?
Ego is, at least, part. It is also a desire to exact revenge on his enemies.
But there are also two practical reasons.
One refers to money. The most reliable source of revenue for Trump’s family business is likely to be political contributions.
Another important thing is to strengthen his legal defense. Trump can decry every subpoena and inquest as part of his political vendetta as long as he is running. It’s a way for Trump to keep his troops together and make every prosecutor think twice. He is running for reelection in order to keep out of jail.