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Ilya Tsukanov
Ilya Tsukanov
Ilya Tsukanov is a Moscow-based correspondent specializing in Eastern European, US and Middle Eastern politics, Cold War history, energy security and military affairs. Member of the Sputnik team since the site's inception in 2014.

Jan 6 Two Years On: What Dems Would Risk by Trying to Prosecute Trump After Nothingburger Probe

January 6 news

Friday marks the second anniversary of the January 6, 2021 riots at the Capitol by an enraged mob convinced the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Donald Trump.

Democrats have milked the event for political purposes for two straight years, with President Biden characterizing it as the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”
Two years since the 2021 unrest outside the Capitol complex, Democrats have failed to provide any rock-solid evidence of Donald Trump’s planning of an “insurrection” in Washington to try to remain in power; still, the governing party may just prove brazen enough to try to prosecute the former president, notwithstanding the tremendous political risks involved, observers have told Sputnik.

On December 22, the House January 6 Committee Investigating the Attack on the Capitol released its final report, charging Donald Trump with a “multi-part conspiracy” to overturn the 2020 election and “block the transfer of power,” and accusing him of orchestrating the spectacular riot at the seat of US legislative power.

Several days prior, the nine-member committee voted to refer Donald Trump and several of his allies to the Justice Department on criminal charges including insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States government, and making false statements to the United States government. If an investigation proceeds and Trump is tried, convicted, and locked up, he could spend the rest of his life in jail, and be permanently barred from ever running for office again.

Much Ado About Nothing?

Trump dismissed the probe’s conclusions and the criminal referral, accusing what he dubbed as the “Democratic Bureau of Investigation” of being out to get him, and comparing the year-and-a-half long, $9 million January 6 investigations to his failed twin impeachments.

“The criminal referrals that the January 6 Committee made regarding President Trump are an exercise in political persecution and wish fulfillment,” says Dr. Nicholas Waddy, a political analyst and associate professor of history at the State University of New York’s Alfred State College.

According to the academic, the January 6 probe failed to provide any solid evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Trump ahead of and during the Capitol riots. At the same time, Trump’s complaining about the 2020 election outcome is an expression of free speech, not criminal behavior, the professor believes.

“He did not encourage anyone to use violence or to violate the law. In fact, he specifically advised his supporters to march ‘peacefully and patriotically’ to the Capitol to lodge a protest against the election results. He did not by any means advise them to use violence or criminal means to overthrow the government,” Waddy said.

Even if one were to discount the former president’s election “fraud” claims, “Trump never did anything in reference to the 2020 election except criticize it and complain about it, and poor sportsmanship is not now, nor has it ever been, a violation of the law,” according to the academic.

Skeletons in Your Closet

Sergio Arellano, an advisory board member of Latinos for Trump, told Sputnik that the January 6 investigation has demonstrated itself to be “political witch hunt” that Trump has repeatedly described it as, and said that the long-promised “smoking gun” evidence of criminal behavior by the former president and his allies never materialized in the year-and-a-half long probe.

Suggesting there were many politicians who truly deserve to be held criminally liable over allegations far more serious than those against Trump – such as Nancy Pelosi and her husband over their alleged insider trading, Hunter and Joe Biden over their suspected pay to play scandal, and Hillary Clinton over her deleted emails, Arellano lamented that Trump, “the one person who called out the politicians and their BS” and “exposed what really happens in politics,” has been targeted instead.

“We saw it with the ‘Dossier’ and we see it with the weaponization of federal law enforcement agencies who are against not only Donald Trump, but against conservatives in general,” Arellano said – referring to the “Steele Dossier” opposition research commissioned by the Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, which would go on to serve as part of the basis of initial US intelligence probes into the Trump campaign’s suspected ties to Russia (claims which have long since been debunked).

Dr. Waddy believes that the Biden Justice Department may move forward with trying to prosecute Trump on the basis of the January 6 Committee’s conclusions, suggesting that for the governing party, the reasoning may be that the more ordinary Americans talk about Trump instead of the substantive issues affecting their lives, the better.

“For Democrats…the calculation may be as simple as this: They believe that Trump deserves to be prosecuted and convicted, and they believe that, the longer the nation is talking about Trump rather than the sever problems that afflict [the country] (inflation, crime, the border, etc.), the better it will be for Democrats. Democrats have already ridden Trump-hatred to something like ‘victory’ in three consecutive US elections. Why not, they will reason, try for number four?” Waddy said.

Republican political commentator Marc Little echoed Waddy’s sentiments on the case, accusing the January 6 Committee of having “lost all credibility…after recent records revealed internal email communications that place the January 6 debacle squarely on the doorstep of former Speaker Pelosi, who we know refused the protection of the National Guard. Secondly, former President Trump’s emails, formerly concealed, make clear his intentions were not to promote an ‘insurrection’ – a crime requiring intention, but rather just the opposite. His tweet encouraged peace.”

“There is no solid proof to date that shows President Trump as the chief architect and responsible party of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Look no further than the ‘Twitter Files’ and its exposure of the abrasive, biased and reckless approach toward all conservatives,” Arellano said, referring to the recent media revelations on the chaotic internal debates at the social media company to justify banning Trump after January 6 even though he was not shown to have violated any rules.

Risky Business

Citing Democrats’ desire to see Trump “rot in a jail cell,” even if it means “grasping at straws” to try to prosecute him, Waddy pointed out that there are extreme political risks involved in doing so, even if prosecutors would have a difficult time arguing their case, given the dearth of evidence.

“The evidence that Trump broke the law will revolve around the fact that he allegedly did not take aggressive enough steps to prevent potential violence from threatening lawmakers on January 6, 2021. Prosecutors would have to argue that the events of that day were clearly foreseeable by Trump, and that he sought to achieve them. The problem is that the Capitol riot was foreseen by no one, including Democrats in Congress, who took few if any steps to increase security on what was bound to be a tense day,” Waddy explained.

“Prosecutors might also argue that Trump contemplated taking extra-constitutional measures to prolong his term in office, although he did not actually follow through on any of the proposed actions.”

The professor believes the fact that the evidence against Trump is “spectacularly weak” is no guarantee that the justice system will clear him. “The DoJ is populated by Trump haters, and so are large portions of the court system, not to mention the potential pool of jurors in Washington, DC, the most deep blue jurisdiction in America. It is highly questionable whether the most hated man in America, and probably the world, can get a fair trial.”
“Nevertheless,” Waddy notes, prosecuting Trump would carry risks for both the Justice Department and the Democrats, particularly in the event of a trial ending in acquittal or an embarrassing mistrial. Furthermore, a trial would likely increase public sympathy for Trump, including among Republicans who have moved on, “turning him, in effect, into a ‘political prisoner’ and a martyr.”

If Trump is prosecuted and jailed, this would also “effectively reset” the GOP’s field of 2024 candidates, increasing the likelihood of a more electable Republican – like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, taking his place, the professor believes.

“DoJ prosecutors and Democratic Party officials will thus have to ask themselves: is trying to nail Trump to the wall via the justice system truly worth it?” the professor asks.

On the flip side, the president’s party may calculate that a trial would keep Trump occupied “and drag him through the mud – possibly even placing him in prison pending trial,” which would likely limit his effectiveness as a candidate in 2024, and justify the risks.

Image credit: Brett Sayles

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