Last month we learned that Donald Trump’s attorneys are “planning for criminal charges” from the Department of Justice, an effort that ramped up in the wake of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s damning testimony before the January 6 committee. “It would be career malpractice not to,” a source familiar with the matter told Rolling Stone. “Do the [former] president’s attorneys believe everything Cassidy said? No.… Do they think the Department of Justice would be wise to charge him? No. But we’ve gotten to a point where if you don’t think criminal charges are at least somewhat likely, you are not serving the [former] president’s best interests.” And while it’s possible the DOJ could decline to indict the former guy, recent developments suggest he might not get that lucky.
On Tuesday, ABC News reported that in a “dramatic escalation in the Justice Department’s investigation” of the plot to overturn the 2020 election and the violent insurrection that followed, the department had subpoenaed Pat Cipollone, White House counsel during the Trump administration. In addition to being the highest-ranking member of the White House staff to have been called to testify by the feds to date, Cipollone was in the West Wing while Trump’s supporters, egged on by the then commander in chief at the “Stop the Steal” rally, attacked the Capitol. As The New York Times notes, Cipollone “also attended several meetings in the run-up to the riot in which Mr. Trump and his allies discussed how they could overturn the election and keep him in office.” In a previously taped recording that aired during the final January 6 hearing of the summer, Cipollone told the panel he believed the president should have done more to call off the angry mob. “I think I was pretty clear there needed to be an immediate and forceful response, statement, public statement, that people need to leave the Capitol now,” he said. Cipollone also knew of Trump’s desire to seize voting machines, which he dubbed “a terrible idea for the country,” “not how we do things in the United States,” and something the administration had “no legal authority” to do. Of Trump’s tweet attacking Mike Pence as the violence was unfolding and Secret Service members thought they were going to lose their lives, Cipollone told the panel:
Responding to the news of the Cipollone subpoena, Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of the two Republicans on the January 6 panel, told CNN it didn’t look good for Trump. He added: “We’ll see where this goes, but there is no doubt that this investigation has developed further along than even where we knew it was or thought it was a few months ago.”
On Thursday, CNN reported that Trump’s legal team is “is in direct communication with Justice Department officials,” with the conversations “focused mostly on whether any communications that witnesses from the Trump West Wing had with the former president can be kept from a federal criminal grand jury under Trump’s claims of executive privilege.” For example, his conversations with Cipollone. Sources told CNN Trump’s lawyers have warned him criminal charges are possible, echoing Rolling Stone’s reporting.
The escalation of the DOJ’s investigation comes just over a week after it was revealed that Marc Short and Greg Jacob, two former top aides to Mike Pence, had been interviewed by a grand jury investigating the plot to overturn the election and the attack on the Capitol. In addition to being able to speak to the threat to Pence’s life on January 6—Short was at the Capitol with the V.P. that day—the former chief of staff was also present at the Oval Office meeting on January 4, 2021, during which attorney John Eastman pressured the V.P. to either suspend the Electoral College vote count and ask willing state legislatures to reexamine their results, or simply reject Joe Biden’s win outright. It was during that meeting that Eastman reportedly admitted that he knew such ideas were illegal, but told Pence, with the president listening, to go along with them anyway. Jacob, Pence’s chief legal counsel, was at that meeting as well. In March, a federal judge wrote that Eastman and Trump very likely committed a crime in attempting to overturn the election, and noted that “the illegality of the plan was obvious.”
In other news re: Trump’s legal peril, his allies in Georgia are reportedly “mounting a campaign to recall Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis over her investigation into the then president’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.” While conceding that the chances of a successful recall are low, a source familiar with the effort told Yahoo News that that’s beside the point, as Michael Isikoff writes, “the aim is to use the recall campaign as a way to politically damage the Democratic district attorney, portraying her as a partisan actor who is ignoring soaring crime rates in Atlanta in order to target high-profile Republicans.” Isikoff adds, “A side benefit of that game plan, another source familiar with the campaign said, is to potentially influence a jury pool down the road should a case against Trump go to trial.” In other words, they’re scared shitless.