1/6 hearings fuel the question: Did Trump commit a crime? – Associated Press

Photo: Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testifies to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol

The House Jan. 6 committee has heard dramatic testimony from former White House aides and others about Donald Trump’s relentless efforts to overturn the 2020 election — and his encouragement of supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol bent on achieving his goal. But the big question remains: Was any of it criminal?

Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide in Trump’s White House, added fresh urgency to the question Tuesday as she delivered explosive new testimony about Trump’s actions before and during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. She said Trump was informed that there were armed protesters at his morning rally before he stood onstage and told them to “fight like hell” at the Capitol. Then he argued with his security detail, she said, trying to go with the crowd.

Trump’s aides knew there could be legal consequences. Hutchinson said White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told her “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable” if Trump had gone to the Capitol that day as Congress was certifying President Joe Biden’s win. Cipollone said Trump could be exposing himself to obstruction of justice charges or defrauding the electoral count, she said.

On the heels of Hutchinson’s public testimony, the House committee on Wednesday issued a subpoena for Cipollone, saying in a letter that while he had provided an “informal interview” on April 13, his refusal to provide on-the-record testimony made their subpoena necessary.

The Justice Department has recently expanded its investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, targeting some of Trump’s allies in Washington and around the country who participated in his scheme to invalidate Biden’s victory. But prosecutors have not indicated whether they will bring a case against the former president.

A look at potential crimes, and what Congress and the Justice Department might do:


Witnesses have testified that Trump was repeatedly advised by campaign aides and top government officials that he had lost the election to Biden and that his claims of widespread voter fraud were divorced from reality.

Yet he pressed ahead, shouting the false allegations that culminated in the riot at the Capitol.

Still in office, he leaned on the Justice Department to get government law enforcement officials to take up his cause. He pressured the states — asking Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” votes, for example — and Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the joint session of Congress that day.

Hutchinson testified that Trump said he wanted metal detectors removed from the area near where he was delivering a speech on Jan. 6. He said it did not matter to him if the supporters, who were to head to the Capitol, were carrying weapons because they were not there to hurt him.

Trump took to his social media website on Tuesday to deny much of Hutchinson’s testimony, which was based on both her own interactions with Trump and information from others who talked to him that day.


He hasn’t been charged, but legal experts believe the testimony, presuming it can be corroborated, does give prosecutors avenues to pursue.

Federal law, for instance, makes it a crime to incite, organize, encourage or promote a riot like the one that enveloped the Capitol. But that’s a high bar for prosecutors to clear. Trump’s exhortation to “fight like hell” could be construed as a more general call to action. He was acquitted by the Senate of an incitement charge in his impeachment trial after the insurrection.

Still, a federal judge in February, in rejecting a request by Trump to toss out conspiracy lawsuits from Democratic lawmakers and two Capitol Police officers, said Trump’s words “plausibly” led to the riot. And Hutchinson’s first-hand account of hearing Trump complain about metal detectors suggested he was aware that some supporters were capable of violence but brushed it off.

A more likely option for prosecution, said Jimmy Gurule, a former federal prosecutor who is a Notre Dame law professor, would be to pursue a case that Trump conspired to defraud the United States through his wide-ranging efforts to overturn the election and to obstruct the congressional proceeding at which the results were to be certified.

That broad statute was cited by the House committee when it asserted in a March legal filing that it had evidence Trump had engaged in a “criminal conspiracy.”

“He was perpetuating the big lie. To what end? To remain in power and to prevent Biden from assuming the reins of the presidency,” Gurule said. “It was fraud on the American people.”

Some legal experts say it doesn’t matter if Trump believed the election was stolen or not. But others say much would depend on the president’s intent and state of mind and whether he supported activities he knew to be unlawful. Though witnesses have testified under oath about telling Trump he had lost, it would be hard to prove what he actually believed.

“I can confidently say that any serious felony-level federal crime that is going to be charged here is going to require proof beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal intent,” said Samuel Buell, a Duke University criminal law professor.

“Any argument that he doesn’t believe that he’s doing something that is against the law … is still an argument he can make and still something the prosecutor has to prove.”


That’s anyone’s guess. The congressional hearings have produced eye-popping testimony, but the one-sided presentation of facts, with no opportunities for cross-examination of witnesses, is a far cry from the burden of proof and trial constraints in criminal prosecutions.

One of the more striking accounts from Hutchinson — that Trump, irate at being driven to the White House instead of the Capitol on Jan. 6, tried to grab at the steering wheel of his presidential vehicle — was something she heard second-hand, likely inadmissible before a jury.

There are clear signs prosecutors are moving beyond the rioters, serving subpoenas last week on multiple state Republican Party chairmen in examining a scheme by Trump allies to create slates of alternate, or fake, electors in an attempt to subvert the vote.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, a former federal appeals court judge and circumspect by nature, has pledged the Justice Department will hold accountable wrongdoers “at any level” — more than 800 people have been charged so far — but he has not said one way or another that he’s considering a case against Trump.

Some Democrats in Congress have been pressing Garland to act. The Jan. 6 committee itself could make a formal criminal referral based on its more than 1,000 interviews. The Justice Department wouldn’t have to act on such a referral, but it has been pressuring the panel to hand over its interview transcripts as it weighs making its own case.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to commennt.

There’s no legal bar to prosecuting Trump as a former president. Since he is no longer in office, Justice Department legal opinions that shielded him from criminal charges no longer apply.

But while it may be hard for the department to turn away from a case if the cumulative evidence is provable beyond a reasonable doubt, there are other factors to consider. No former president has ever been prosecuted by the Justice Department, and a criminal case against the already polarizing former president risks dividing the country even further.

Trump has also been laying the groundwork for another presidential run, and the department may want to avoid any perception that it is targeting a political adversary of Biden in the heat of an election.

“It will be,” Buell said, “one of the hardest issues that any U.S. attorney general has ever confronted.”


3 thoughts on “1/6 hearings fuel the question: Did Trump commit a crime? – Associated Press”

  1. This is not journalism. AP hacks are like a bunch of 11 year old trouble-makers that stir up trouble at every opportunity.

    Cassidy Hutchinson is another paid Democrat liar just like Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford, yet AP gives her the headlines.

    AP is a weak, pathetic shell of its former self. Pay no attention to them.

  2. The Democrat controlled jan6 hearings are violating congressional rules as the Democrats denied Republicans placing their members on the commission. Then hiring a Hollywood producer to orchestrate the prime time TV coverage is even more insulting to justice in America. Hopefully the factors of inflation and lost confidence in the Biden administration overall will carry a tide of quality American patriots into office in November. It is our only hope in saving America from the slide into Washington’s total control of our lives. MAGA

  3. D’oh!

    Donald Trump wasn’t in The Beast on the day in question. Witness credibility is gone.

    The Secret Service said they’ll testify that the paid liar Cassidy Hutchinson is wrong about the grabbed steering wheel, choking an agent, etc. Yet, Nancy “Do Everything You Can To Destroy Donald Trump or I Will Destroy You” Pelosi won’t let them. That’s clear evidence that the Jan 6th Commission is a Violent Radical Left Cash Grabber Clown Show.

    She was 23 years old on the Jan 6th in question, yet they call her a Senior Adviser to a highly placed person in the Trump Administration? More clear evidence this is a Clown Show.

    But as usual when the Democrats need someone to loose forth with filth and lies, they gussy her up nice, with the fancy clothes and the perfect hair and other things and then present her as the usual totally-transparent “brave woman coming forward” and the like. Can someone please hand me a bucket to vomit into?

    It’s all pure political theater for the benefit of the Violent Radical Left Cash Grabbers, and it’s all PAID FOR BY THE U.S. TAXPAYER. They are stealing our money so they can take our freedom, our firearms and all of our money. Make no mistake about it.

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