Criminal charges in Trump DOJ investigation hinge on one big question: legal expert
President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr, White House photo by Shealah Craighead

According to legal analyst Danny Cevallos, before any criminal investigation is begun into charges that the Department of Justice was secretly investigating Democratic lawmakers during the Donald Trump administration, the DOJ needs to come clean over how extensive it was and if members of both parties received the same treatment.

With charges of political corruption being levied against attorneys general Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr -- both of whom have denied any knowledge of the demand for phone records of two lawmakers who have been thorns in the side of ex-president Trump -- Cevallos claimed there is one big question hanging over the ongoing inquiry.

Noting that one of the targeted lawmakers, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has called the report of seeking phone records a "terrible abuse of power," Cevallos suggested, "The investigation really needs to answer only one question: Were Republicans targeted as well? That's it. It's the only question that really matters."

Making his case, the legal analyst stated the inclusion of Republicans would indicate that the former president was weaponizing the DOJ to go after his political enemies on both sides of the aisle and not just going after two lawmakers he truly believed were leaking information.

"If Republicans were also targeted, then this could still have been a purely political investigation, depending on other facts. But if Republicans were not targeted, then that should be the end of the inquiry, at least as far as the public is concerned. If Trump's DOJ targeted only Democratic lawmakers, that's a politically motivated investigation—even if there is some arguable criminal activity afoot," Cevallos wrote for the Daily Beast. "Perhaps confusingly, even if the investigation was politically motivated, it is legally valid so long as there is at least probable cause that a crime was committed. The Supreme Court has suggested since at least 1996 that an investigation motivated by a bad reason is not invalidated if there is substantial evidence of an objective violation of the law."

Clarifying his point, he added, "It follows that Trump's DOJ could legally justify their investigation of only Democrats if they have enough evidence of criminal leaks by Democrats. In fact, even if the DOJ had evidence of Democrats and Republicans alike committing criminal leaks, the DOJ would technically, legally be permitted to choose to investigate only Democrats. There's not much to stop a politically motivated Attorney General who sees criminal activity from two parties choosing to only investigate one of them."

He added that the "Justice Department's Inspector General has announced an investigation into the subpoenas and the reasons they were issued," which is a good thing since it presumably precludes political influence, and urged the IG to clear up how far-reaching the DOJ's investigation into lawmakers went before any hearings or criminal investigations open.

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