WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump announced ahead of schedule his third White House bid Wouldn’t protect the ex-president from the criminal investigation he already faced As a private citizen, it leaves him legally and politically exposed as he seeks the Republican nomination in 2024.
The Justice Department is advancing its investigation. With the midterm elections now largely complete and the 2024 presidential campaign still months away from actually getting underway, federal prosecutors have plenty of time to continue their work even if Trump is on the campaign trail.
“I don’t think the department is going to balk at Trump nominating himself and designating himself as the first candidate for the 2024 election,” said former Justice Department prosecutor Michael Weinstein. “I just think they’re going to look at it.” To this point, because he’s been very successful in court trying to game the system,” and they’re ready for his “fight back.”
Trump campaign faces federal investigation related to his efforts to overturn 2020 election results And participated in the hoarding of top secret government documents on his Florida estate — plus a separate state survey in Georgia. Prosecutors at Mar-a-Lago moved particularly quickly, granting immunity to close Trump ally this month Make sure he testifies before a federal grand jury. Justice Department lawyers in the investigation said they had gathered evidence of potential crimes involving not only obstruction but also the willful retention of national defense information.
It’s unclear whether anyone will be charged, nor is there a timeline for a decision. But former officials said the best way to ensure the outcome was seen as justifiable was to conduct a formal investigation to demonstrate that no special treatment or abuse had been accorded by Trump’s former top brass.
“If you treat Donald Trump as you would any other American, the public will have the most trust in what you do and you will have the most successful outcome,” said the Justice Department spokesman under former Attorney General Eric Matthew Miller of Holder said.
Current Attorney General Merrick Garland said last summer in response to questions about Trump and the Jan. 6 investigation that “no one is above the law.” Asked in a television interview in July how Trump’s potential nominee might influence the department, Garland replied: “We will hold anyone accountable for trying to interfere with the transfer of power from one administration to the next. Responsibility of persons who are criminally responsible for the government.”
Investigating any elected official or candidate for public office almost always sparks political speculation. The Justice Department agreement warns prosecutors against taking public action directly before the election, but that’s more of a standard practice than a mandate. The 2024 presidential election is still two years away.
Still, investigating former presidents or current candidates isn’t easy. This is especially the case with Trump, who has been bashing his own Justice Department throughout his presidency and blaming his own appointed attorneys general. He has already blasted the FBI for raiding Mar-a-Lago in August, using the incident to raise money from supporters.
Now, with his candidacy officials at his disposal, he and his supporters will try to redefine the narrative of the investigation as a 2024 witch hunt against him by the Democratic administration.
Indeed, one risk for Democrats is that Trump — who declared himself a “victim” in Tuesday’s statement — could use the argument again to inflame his supporters. On the other hand, the results of last week’s midterm elections suggested that he may be more vulnerable politically than many thought, including his own Republican party.
What about past investigations of presidential candidates? There is a recent precedent, albeit under different circumstances.
In 2016, the Obama administration’s Justice Department investigated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. Despite the efforts of law enforcement officials involved in the investigation to remain on the sidelines, the investigation has repeatedly been mired in presidential politics — in ways that may not have been foreseen at the outset.
Then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch regrets chance encounter In the final days of the investigation, she had contact with Bill Clinton.Former FBI Director James Comey Accused of Harming Clinton’s Candidacy with Detailed Public Explanations Or why the bureau doesn’t recommend charging and reopening the investigation 11 days before the election.
David Laufman, who oversees the Justice Department investigation and is the head of the same division that investigated the Mar-a-Lago investigation, said that along with the political swirl that comes with a politically charged investigation comes a head-down mentality. There is a “surreal disconnect” between them. A prosecutor determined to do just that job.
“Here we are, with a criminal investigation tinged with national security, in a way that’s on the front page of every newspaper almost every day,” Laufman said. “All we can do is keep doing what we know What must be done – to obtain all relevant facts necessary to judge whether it is appropriate to recommend criminal charges.”
He said he believed the same was true of the investigators working at Mar-a-Lago, under pressure from the public to praise their professionalism and even fear for their personal safety.
In the Clinton case, Comey has said he considered recommending a separate special counsel to direct the investigation, but he ultimately did not do so. The option of a specially appointed prosecutor reporting to Garland also exists here, just as the Trump-era Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead an investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016. .
It’s unclear how seriously Garland would take this. A department spokesman declined to comment.
Politics aside, much will ultimately depend on the strength of the Justice Department’s case when deciding whether to press charges.
“If the administration’s case is particularly strong, I think the rule of law will dominate the attorney general’s deliberations,” Laufman said.
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