Trump ‘more likely than not’ committed felony on day of Capitol riot, judge writes in ruling

A federal judge on Monday ordered that more than 100 emails from Trump adviser John Eastman be released to the House committee investigating last year’s insurrection at the US Capitol, asserting it is “more likely than not” that former president Donald Trump committed crimes in his attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election.

The ruling by US District Court Judge David Carter marked a major legal win for the panel as it looks to correspondence from Eastman, the lawyer who was consulting with Trump as he attempted to overturn the presidential election.

“Based on the evidence, the court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” Carter wrote in the ruling submitted in the federal Central District of California.

Eastman was trying to withhold documents from the committee on the basis of an attorney-client privilege claim between him and the former president. The committee responded earlier this month, arguing that there is a legal exception allowing the disclosure of communications regarding ongoing or future crimes.

A lawyer representing Eastman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The March 3 filing from the committee was its most formal effort to link the former president to a federal crime. Lawmakers do not have the power to bring criminal charges on their own and can only make a referral to the Justice Department. The department has been investigating last year’s riot, but it has not given any indication that it is considering seeking charges against Trump.

The committee argued in the court documents that Trump and his associates engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” to prevent Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. Trump and those working with him then spread false information about the outcome of the presidential election and pressured state officials to overturn the results, potentially violating multiple federal laws, the panel said.

‘A coup in search of a legal theory’

Carter, nominated to the court by former president Bill Clinton, called the actions of Trump and Eastman “a coup in search of a legal theory.”

“If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the court fears January 6 will repeat itself,” Carter wrote.

Lawyer and Trump adviser John Eastman, left, gestures as he speaks not long before rioters stormed the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, 2021. Standing beside him is Trump ally Rudy Giuliani. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

It’s not clear if the committee will make a criminal referral to the Justice Department when its work is complete, or if the committee will outlast the consequences of midterm elections in November, when control of the House could flip to the Republicans.

Attorney General Merrick Garland — unsurprisingly given the ramifications involving an ex-president — has not commented on whether the Justice Department is investigating Trump, who spoke to supporters not long before many of them descended on the Capitol. Garland has said the department “remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law.”

The nine-member committee meets Monday night to discuss whether to hold Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, former members of Trump’s administration, in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas it issued.

The committee could also soon seek to interview conservative activist Virginia (Ginny) Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Multiple reports last week detailed text exchanges between Ginny Thomas and Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in early January 2021.

Legal troubles swirl

Trump maintains popularity within the Republican Party despite an unprecedented two impeachments in the House, including for incitement of insurrection in connection with the Jan. 6 events. After the impeachments, he was acquitted both times in the Senate, which requires a two-thirds majority, or 67-vote threshold, to convict.

But Trump faces a number of potential legal challenges that could prove an obstacle to plotting another run for president in 2024.

A special grand jury is being impanelled in Georgia to assess Trump’s attempts to pressure officials in the state to negate Joe Biden’s electoral college win there.

New York prosecutors have been probing Trump Organization financial statements for potential criminal wrongdoing and civil litigation, while last week it was ruled that Trump and his sons must sit for a deposition in relation to their promotion on Celebrity Apprentice of a marketing company that is alleged to have been a pyramid scheme.

There is also civil litigation with his niece, Mary Trump, who wrote a book critical of Trump, as well as an ongoing defamation suit stemming from a writer’s allegation that Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.

Trump politically has previously survived allegations of sexual assault during the 2016 campaign and damning court-ordered dissolutions of Trump University, a real estate program and his charitable organization, the Trump Foundation.

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