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Understanding the latest investigations into Trump's role in January 6


The word unprecedented keeps coming to mind when it comes to former President Donald Trump. He's the first former president in U.S. history to be indicted. And as he campaigns to return to the White House, he's also facing a lot of legal trouble - and not just the indictments in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case and the Stormy Daniels hush money case and a jury's decision that he raped E. Jean Carroll. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp says he's been contacted by special counsel Jack Smith's office as the counsel investigates 2020 election interference.

And just last week, Trump himself announced that he received a target letter from the Department of Justice notifying him that he's a subject in the investigation into the January 6 insurrection. Prosecutors normally issue target letters before filing charges. To talk more about that case, we're joined by Andrew Weissmann, formerly a lead prosecutor on special counsel Robert Mueller's team and now a professor at New York University School of Law. Good morning.

ANDREW WEISSMANN: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So I want to start with the obvious question. The DOJ has been doing this investigation for a while and so far has charged more than a thousand people. Why are we seeing movement in Trump's January 6 case now?

WEISSMANN: I think there are two reasons. First, having been on a special counsel investigation, as you noted, I think that there's internal pressure to proceed as fast as possible because of your obligation to the American public to get on with it and not to let these things linger the way people say the Ken Starr investigation or the John Durham investigation did. And I think the second reason is that there really is a time clock here where I think it's probably something that Jack Smith thinks is important for the American public to be able to know what happened and to make an evaluation for themselves based on the evidence presented at trial, whether there's a conviction or an acquittal.

RASCOE: I mentioned Trump's other two indictments, the classified documents case and the hush money case. Do you consider a possible January 6 indictment to be of a different league?

WEISSMANN: I do, and I say that even though I was the general counsel of the FBI, and the Mar-a-Lago documents case is incredibly important because of the threat to national security of the United States that those charges suggest if proved. But I think that the January 6 case, if it's proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you have a former president who was willing to overthrow the will of the people - and it's hard to think of a crime that is more central to American democracy than that.

RASCOE: What would the possible charges be for the January 6 case?

WEISSMANN: So one of the things that I think everyone sort of anticipates is a charge that's been brought against many, many people in Washington, D.C., with respect to the January 6 case, and that is obstruction of Congress. It's 18 U.S.C. 1512, to just be a nerd in terms of the actual criminal statute. And so that's just obstructing Congress in its duties, which were to count the votes and to accord the election to the winner, which was Joe Biden.

Another charge that's gotten a lot of attention recently is a violation of civil rights. That is a statute that was enacted after the Civil War to protect freed slaves and a violation of their right to vote by the Ku Klux Klan. And that has been interpreted to cover the right - all of our rights to vote and diluting our right to vote. And so there seems to be quite a good fit in terms of undermining the votes of approximately 80 million people who voted for Joe Biden, where the goal of the January 6 insurrection was to have those votes essentially thrown out.

RASCOE: So what would be the challenge for DOJ prosecutors if this case goes to trial? Because you're basically putting on trial someone who's running for office, the front-runner and someone who was president.

WEISSMANN: Sure. Well, you know, it's worth remembering to that score that Jack Smith came from not just the - as a state prosecutor and federal prosecutor but also the International Criminal Court, where he dealt with political figures who had abused their positions of power. So for him, this would not be, unfortunately, something new. I do think that there are a lot of challenges here. One would just be getting the case to trial because if you're trying to have a trial before the election, that is a relatively short time frame. Remember, a defendant's entitled to due process in terms of having enough time to prepare or go through discovery, etc. And then, obviously, the second is jury nullification, making sure that the - whoever the judge is who's assigned does a very thorough job to make sure that each and every one of the selected jurors can follow their oath of office to just decide the case based on what happens in court and nothing else.

RASCOE: What key questions do you want answered in the coming days?

WEISSMANN: I'm really interested in whether there will be other defendants who are charged - John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark, who is a former DOJ person. So I think that's one key thing. And then I think I'm very interested in hearing what the evidence is, you know, the same way that when we saw the Mar-a-Lago case, there was a lot of new information in those charges. And I suspect that will be the same here, where we learn a lot of new material based on the investigation that Jack Smith has been conducting.

RASCOE: That's Andrew Weissmann, a former prosecutor with the Justice Department. Thanks for speaking with us.

WEISSMANN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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