Opinion | What does the Justice Department’s new Jan. 6 sedition indictment mean for Trump?

That latest development in the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of the attack on the US Capitol last year was particularly embarrassing for many conservative politicians and pundits.

Thursday, just one day after Marco Rubio came out to the Senate Hall to laugh at the idea that “our government was almost overthrown last year by a guy in a Viking hat and swimming trunks.” agency has filed charges the accusation of the founder and leader of the Oathkeeper militia and 10 others of sedition. The indictment alleges an armed “conspiracy to forcibly prevent the legitimate transfer of presidential power in 2020” and “take control of the Capitol” on January 6 to prevent the Electoral College vote from being confirmed in favor of Joe Biden.

Within a few months, conservative politicians and experts pointed to the fact that no one had been “charged” with the rebellion or mutinous conspiracy as evidence that the media and liberals had exaggerated the events of that day. Among other things, the latest Oathkeeper indictment is an official repudiation of this plausible view, but beyond that, what does it tell us about the possibility that former President Donald Trump himself might fall into a trap?

The usual caveats apply: beyond what has been revealed in court documents, the mechanics and results of the department’s investigative work are largely secret, and predictions are always a risky venture. One could reasonably view the conspiracy charge as part of a potential trail that could lead to Trump being prosecuted. But there are good reasons to doubt that the ministry is really getting close to indicting Trump for his role in the January 6 events or his behavior prior to that day.

One thing is clear: blaming represents a kind of gradual but meaningful progress that Attorney General Merrick Garland promised in his speech around January 6 earlier this month. Nine of the 10 people, along with Oath Keepers founder Stuart Rhodes, have been charged. already under investigation, but now they are charged with mutinous conspiracy along with Rhodes, in addition to the previous charges. The outlines of the accused conspiracy were outlined in earlier indictments, but the newest indictment contains a fuller and more detailed account, including many messages involving Rhodes himself – a particularly useful compendium for those of us unable to follow all the day-to-day intricacies of the trial. , which now involves more than 700 defendants.

The insurrectionary conspiracy charge has rightly drawn a lot of attention in light of the public debate of recent months. In accordance with report last summer, Garland himself did not want to accuse anyone of sedition – on the basis of some political, legal and practical problems – thus, the government has used legally comparable charges of obstruction of official proceedings, and it can continue to do so in all but the most serious cases.

In addition to the fact that the department has since collected new evidence, the question of whether to charge someone with sedition has taken on more political significance in recent months. On the left, some observers have criticized the department for failing to press charges such as sedition or sedition, which they feel better fits the political and legal implications of 6 January. However, perhaps more importantly, many people on the right were stubborn about the absence of these allegations and, like Rubio, played down the importance of the investigation and the seriousness of the day’s events. This public campaign may have prompted the department to do something to validate its work and place the events of the day in context.

Does the latest indictment give oath holders additional reason to believe that Trump could face charges of sedition or conspiracy to obstruct certification? Because the Keepers of the Oath provided security to Republican operative and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone on January 6, and prosecutors may eventually uncover evidence that Stone communicated with Trumpworld, the White House, or Trump himself about the government’s alleged violent plan.

Had Trump been aware of, facilitated or encouraged the alleged conspiracy, then he could be considered to have joined it, which would make him criminally guilty of the conspiracy itself and any other reasonably foreseeable criminal acts committed in support of the conspiracy, including, say, obstruction of the certification itself, destruction of government property, or assault on federal employees, which have also been alleged. If it happened through Stone—whether Stone communicated with Trump through an intermediary at Trumpworld or the White House, or communicated directly with Trump himself—that might be enough. What counts as “joining” in a conspiracy usually depends on the facts and context, and ultimately the decision is up to the jury. But the agreement between the accomplices doesn’t have to be explicit, and you don’t need to know all the participants or all the details of the plan to be criminally liable.

As a result, the fact that the government has now moved even higher up the hierarchy of oath-keepers seems to feed the theory that the Justice Department is simply acting, as it always does in large and complex criminal investigations, from the bottom up. up — and that criticisms of Garland and the department for not conducting a more aggressive investigation into Trump are misplaced. This theory formulated some more often irritated Garland defenderswho also claim that the department may eventually get to trump through someone like Alex Jones, whose right hand, Owen Schroyer has already been chargedwho helped organize the previous rally that day and who said that White House officials told him to lead people to the Capitol.

These statements about how investigations usually proceed are not flippant, but they are not as obvious as their proponents claim. First, the government does not always work in a way that I can testify in a limited way based on my experience prosecution for international financial fraud that defrauded victims approximately $150 million. The first prosecution that began in this case was against the CEO of a corporate criminal enterprise, partly because of the way things unfolded in this investigation, but also because I didn’t want to indulge in unnecessary, years of tedious work. harassment of people is gradually higher when I saw the opportunity and opportunity to blame the CEO at an early stage. Other prosecutors I can tell similar stories.

As with January 6th, major criminal enterprises and events do not always involve clear lines of authority or organizational charts that depict all involved in a way that is as if you were investigating misconduct at a major financial institution. They may also include several, perhaps overlapping, plots of varying levels of complexity and strength, rather than some hypothetical pyramidal structure in which each has a single purpose. What determined prosecutors typically look for is leverage and opportunity – ideally with the most significant players involved and as early in the investigation as possible.

None of us ultimately know what Garland and his team of accusers ultimately have in mind or hope to achieve. I am inclined to believe that if they were seriously looking into exposing Trump criminally for his post-election behavior, we would see some significant signs that they are doing more direct investigations – for example, federal investigation Trump the infamous call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (which seems to were abandoned local prosecutors in Georgia), or an investigation into what happened at the White House January 6 (which seems to have been left to the House Select Committee, at least for now).

Prosecutors use dubious people as accomplices all the time, but if you had the potential to use someone like Mark Meadows as an accomplice against Trump – which they do – that would be much preferable to hoping to work your way to Trump through the Guardians. oaths. and people like Stone or Jones who have a well-documented history of lying.

Time is also not on the Justice Department’s side, which is another reason to be skeptical about the claim that prosecutors are aggressively pursuing Trump in the January 6 prosecution – not to mention that they will ever charge him. If Republicans regain one or both houses of Congress, they are likely to make the department’s investigation as difficult as possible due to oversight hearings and media appearances. And if Trump were to announce re-election in 2024, it’s hard to imagine that the Garland-led department would ever seriously consider indicting him, as it would look like an attempt to steer the election in favor of Biden.

None of this detracts from the latest indictment, but if you’re wondering what this means for Trump, then, as with everything to do with the man, a healthy dose of caution and skepticism is in order.

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