Exclusive: DOJ considers potential special counsel if Trump runs in 2024


As Donald Trump moves closer to launching another presidential bid after the midterm elections, Justice Department officials have discussed whether Trump’s candidacy would create the need for a special counsel to oversee two broad federal investigations into the former president, sources familiar with the matter said. CNN.

The Justice Department is conducting investigations with experienced prosecutors to prepare for any decision after the midterms, including an unprecedented move to impeach a former president.

In the weeks leading up to the election, the Justice Department has seen its usual quiet period of not making any overt moves that could have political ramifications. But behind the scenes, investigators have been busy, using aggressive grand jury subpoenas and secret court battles to compel testimony from witnesses in investigations into Trump’s 2020 election annulment and alleged misuse of national security documents stored at his Palm Beach home. .

Now federal investigators are ramping up post-election activity in their Trump-related investigations. That includes the possibility of indictments of Trump associates — moves that could become more complicated if Trump declares his candidacy for president.

“They can charge almost anybody if they want to,” said a defense attorney working on matters related to Jan. 6, adding that defense attorneys “don’t know” who they will end up charging.

“This is scary,” said the lawyer.

Trump and his associates also have legal exposure in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election in the Peach State and expects to wrap up her investigation by the end of the year.

Impeaching an active candidate for the White House would surely set off a political firestorm. And while no decision has been made on whether a special counsel will be needed in the future, DOJ officials have debated whether doing so could insulate the Justice Department from allegations that the Joe Biden administration is targeting its chief political rival, people familiar with the matter said. CNN.

Special counsels, of course, are hardly immune to political attacks. Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe came under heavy criticism from opponents.

The Justice Department declined to comment for this story.

The Justice Department has brought in a brain trust to provide top-level advice on the Trump investigation, according to people familiar with the moves.

Top justice officials have looked to an old guard of former New York Southern District attorneys, including Kansas City-based federal prosecutor and national security expert David Raskin, as well as David Rody, a former defense attorney turned prosecutor. he specialized in gang and conspiracy cases and has worked extensively with government cooperation.

Rody, whose involvement has not been previously disclosed, in recent weeks left a lucrative partnership at the high-profile corporate defense firm Sidley Austin to become the DOJ’s senior attorney in Washington’s criminal division, according to his LinkedIn profile and sources familiar with the move. .

The DC US Attorney’s team handling the day-to-day work of the January 6 investigations is also growing, even as the office continues to prosecute sedition cases against far-right extremists.

Other prosecutors have joined the Jan. 6 investigative team, including a senior fraud and public corruption prosecutor who moved from a supervisory position to the team, and a prosecutor with years of experience in appellate work. some activities of the grand jury.

Taken together, the prosecutors’ reshuffle represents a serious and snowballing investigation into Trump and his inner circle.

The decision on whether to indict Trump or his associates will ultimately rest with Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was handpicked by President Joe Biden because his tenure as a judge provided some distance from partisan politics after Senate Republicans blocked the Supreme Court nomination in 2016. .

Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Several former prosecutors believe the facts are ripe for a potential case. But Garland will have to navigate the politically dangerous and historic decision of how to approach the potential impeachment of a former president.

In March, Garland avoided answering a CNN question about the possibility of a special counsel for Trump-related investigations, but said the Justice Department “doesn’t shy away from cases that are controversial or sensitive or political.”

“What we will avoid and must avoid is any element of partisanship in making decisions about cases,” Garland said. “That is the intent of ensuring that the Department’s decisions are made on the merits, and that they are made in accordance with the facts and the law, and are not based on any partisan considerations.”

Garland’s tough decisions go beyond Trump. The lengthy investigation into Hunter Biden, the president’s son, is nearing completion, people briefed on the matter say. Also waiting: The final decision on the investigation of Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, after prosecutors recommended against the charges.

After the midterms, attention is likely to turn to the 2024 presidential race. That could push top DOJ officials to make crucial charging decisions as quickly as possible, including whether to file charges against Trump himself or other top political activists, other sources familiar with the inner workings of the Justice Department say.

“They’re not going to get charged before they’re ready to get charged,” a former Justice Department official said of the investigation’s thinking. “But pressure will be added to pass the review” earlier than the normal five-year window for cases to bring charges.

Matters could also be complicated by the situation in Georgia, where Willis is investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election there. Willis said he aims to have a special grand jury to complete the investigation by the end of the year.

Willis has seen his version of a quiet period around the midterm elections and plans to bring witnesses before the grand jury in the coming weeks. Sources previously said CNN’s indictments could come as soon as December.

Key Trump allies, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, are among the witnesses who have tried to resist subpoenas in efforts to disrupt the 2020 Georgia election.

How those disputes are resolved in Georgia — including whether courts compel testimony — could improve DOJ’s information-gathering ability, as the House Select Committee’s Jan. 6 investigation added to DOJ’s lines of inquiry inside the Trump White House.

The months before the elections have given little rest to the political and legal activity surrounding the investigations. The DC U.S. Attorney’s Office — still handling the bulk of the Jan. 6 investigation — has faced burnout in its ranks as prosecutors are brought to trial or win guilty pleas in more than 800 incidents surrounding the Capitol. still looking to charge hundreds more.

Trump has also thwarted the DOJ’s efforts to hush things up in the weeks leading up to the election, prompting a flurry of headlines related to the investigation.

Trump’s legal team launched a complicated court-led process to sort through the thousands of documents seized at Mar-a-Lago to determine whether they are privileged and off-limits to investigators. But the Justice Department and the intelligence community have had access for weeks to about 100 classified records that Trump kept in Florida.

The results of an intelligence review of those documents could determine whether criminal charges are filed, according to a source familiar with the Justice Department’s approach.

However, in both investigations, court activity under seal never abated, as the Justice Department sought to compel at least five Trump-related witnesses to testify undercover in grand jury investigations in Washington, DC, CNN previously reported.

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Trump adviser Kash Patel to testify before a grand jury investigating his handling of federal records at Mar-a-Lago, according to two people familiar with the investigation.

D.C. District Court Judge Beryl Howell granted Patel immunity from prosecution for any information he provides to the investigation, another significant step closer to charging the Justice Department with the case.