A federal judge in California will soon issue a ruling that could prove crucial in efforts to prosecute Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The House select committee laid out damning evidence in court last week accusing the former president of defrauding the government, but now it's up to U.S. Judge David O. Carter to decide whether there's enough suspicion to lift the veil on Trump's attorney-client relationship with right-wing lawyer John Eastman, reported The Daily Beast.
“We’re a long way from a criminal complaint,” said Jessica A. Levinson, a law school professor at Loyola Marymount University. “But again, it’s the strongest connection we’ve seen between … Trump’s conduct regarding the 2020 election and possible criminal exposure.”
"It’s a big deal," she added.
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If the 23-year veteran judge concludes the evidence shows probable fraud, that would put the Department of Justice under additional pressure to finally prosecute the twice-impeached former president -- but if Carter decides Eastman's emails should remain shielded, that would cast doubt over the congressional investigation and hinder future efforts to obtain Trump-related search warrants.
“We say nobody’s above the law, but in practice, the president is above the law,” said Douglas M. Spencer, an associate professor of law at the University of Colorado. "Once 80 million people say they support you to be their political leader, that does create some protection against legal action, because it will always raise the question of a political prosecution."
However, that political protection likely won't extend to Eastman, who Spencer predicted would be criminally charged and disbarred, and others in Trump's orbit, due to the strength of the evidence displayed last week by the select committee.
“The emails we’ve seen are already pretty damning,” Spencer said. “There would have been a finding of criminal fraud accepted by a judge that will color people’s views of what was happening on Jan. 6.”
The committee is hoping the judge will grant them access to emails that would show what Eastman advised Trump to do as he fought to overturn his election loss, and might even prove Trump knew their efforts were immoral and illegal, but Carter has already signaled that generating suspicion of fraud is much different from proving it in court.
“The committee will still have to finish its work then vote on a criminal referral and then of course the Department of Justice will make its own assessment,” said Levinson, the legal scholar.