Sunday, May 30, 2021

Trump's Day of Reckoning Now at Hand?

                 Donald J. Trump, sulking at Mar a Lago with no access to his followers on Facebook and Twitter, is being drawn ever closer to his day of reckoning with the law now that New York City’s district attorney has convened a special grand jury to hear evidence from the prosecutor’s investigation of Trump’s businesses. The grand jury may be asked soon to consider possible criminal charges against the Trump Organization, Trump himself, and perhaps some of Trump’s family members and/or some of Trump’s former associates in the business.

                News of the empaneling of the grand jury, long anticipated, came last week [May 25] as first reported in The Washington Post on its home page on Tuesday and on the front page of its print edition on Wednesday. Quoting “people familiar with the development,” The Post’s Trump beat correspondents Shayna Jacobs and David A. Farenthold reported that the panel will meet three days a week over six months. Other news organizations reported that the grand jury consists of twenty-three members, randomly selected from New York City jury lists.

                Two former prosecutors quoted in news coverage assessed the news as signaling that the Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. views his office’s years-long investigation of Trump’s business to have reached “an advanced stage.”  “The prosecutors are convinced they have a case,” Rebecca Rophie, a former ADA in Vance’s office and now a professor at New York Law School, told the Post. “That’s at least how I read it.”

                Commenting on CNN, Preet Bahrara, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan fired by Trump early in his presidency, predicted on CNN that the move sets the stage for a “parade of witnesses” regularly going into the grand jury room. Bahrara is now a paid legal analyst with the cable news channel.

                Meanwhile, Trump was facing another spike of unfavorable legal news in a different venue as a federal judge in Washington considered ordering the release of the Justice Department memo that the then-attorney general William Barr cited in summarizing the Mueller Report as exonerating Trump of obstruction of justice in regard to the Russia investigation. [330]

                Those of us who have been hoping for the law to catch up with Trump for more than four years may be in for a disappointment, however, according to a former Watergate prosecutor writing in The Washington Post. An indictment of Trump is far from certain and a conviction even iffier, according to Philip Lacovara, counsel to the former Watergate special prosecutor and a former president of the District of Columbia Bar, in an op-ed written with John Martin, a former U.S. attorney and federal judge.

                Vance’s hopes for a successful prosecution may depend on flipping Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime financial manager, who himself may face legal liability for failing to report income he received in the form of extravagant benefits bestowed over the years by Trump.

                Even with Weisselberg’s cooperation, however, former prosecutors are cautioning in print and on the air that financial fraud cases are difficult to present and difficult for untrained jurors to follow and grasp.

Trump, meanwhile, is using his “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” blog to call Vance’s investigation a partisan witch-hunt. Trump’s pre-election boast that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing any of his supporters underscores the very real possibility that a federal jury seated to try Trump could include one or more pro-Trump jurors unwilling to convict even in the face of damning evidence.

Long after the fact, it is now clear that Trump escaped prosecution for obstruction of justice back in 2019 for his attempts to thwart the Russia investigation not for lack of evidence but for the political views of his lapdog attorney general William Barr. 

Barr’s peremptory statement that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation had exonerated Trump could have been seen as palpably false at the time, but Trump and his partisans trumpeted Barr’s pronouncement as proof positive that Mueller’s detailed, 400-page report lacked substance.

The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has been trying for years to force the Justice Department to disclose the memo from DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel that Barr claimed as the basis for his statement clearing Trump of any criminal liability.

Trump administration lawyers argued the memo was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because of the privilege for deliberative, pre-decisional documents. Ruling on CREW’s efforts, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson bluntly accused Barr of practicing public relations rather than law. “ The suggestion that the Attorney General’s advisors were helping him make a decision about whether to initiate or decline a prosecution is contrary to the very memorandum at issue,” Jackson wrote, in a blistering opinion. Instead, she concluded, Barr was simply “girding for a preemptive strike against the Mueller report.”

The obstruction of justice count might seem to be moot, but not so, according to Andrew Weissman, a prosecutor on Mueller’s staff. In a guest essay in the New York Times, Weissman argued that it is not too late to prosecute Trump based on what he calls the “ample evidence” the office compiled to support such a charge.

            Trump may yet emerge unscathed from all these legal troubles, but those of us who believe in the rule of law must hope that the law may yet hold him accountable.

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