After voting to acquit Donald Trump of incitement to insurgency, Mitch McConnell hinted that the former president’s legal woes were far from over.
“We have a criminal justice system in this country,” the Senate Minority Leader said on Saturday evening. “We have civil disputes. And past presidents are not immune to being held accountable by either.
He echoed other Republican senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida, who have suggested that Trump may soon face charges in criminal or civil courts regarding the Jan.6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.
Critics accused Republican lawmakers of shirking their responsibilities by refuse to condemn the former president of inciting an insurgency on the siege.
But legal experts agree that Trump, who is already the subject of a criminal investigation in Manhattan over financial transactions at the Trump Organization, is likely to find himself at the center of several other investigations. Now that he is a private citizen, he no longer enjoys the legal protections that were granted to him when he was president.
Noah Bookbinder, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said: “This trial and the Senate vote are extremely important, but I don’t think this will or should be the only way to hold Donald Trump to account. .
The bookbinders group filed a criminal complaint with the Department of Justice and Fani Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County, Georgia. Willis has launched an investigation focused on Trump’s now infamous phone call to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for Georgia. In that phone call, the audio of which was released by the Washington Post, Trump pressured Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to help him win the presidential election there. House impeachment officials, acting as prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial, cited the appeal in their case.
Willis told MSNBC his investigation “looks like it will only make one phone call.”
“Whether there was an indictment or not, it would not change the fact that something happened here in my jurisdiction that could be criminal. And if so, it was necessary to investigate. “
CREW’s complaint alleges that Trump “illegally conspired to deprive the Georgian people of their right to vote and have their votes counted,” conspired to “intimidate” Georgian election officials into falsifying the vote count and attempted to get them to vote. “Adopting a behavior that constitutes a crime according to the state electoral code.”
He has also been accused of pressuring election officials in several other states to overturn the November presidential election results, including in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Legal experts say the Georgia case is the most convincing at this point, given the incriminating nature of the Raffensperger appeal which is already in the public domain.
“There is a serious risk under Georgian law for the president, not least because the call was recorded, so there is overwhelming evidence,” said Norm Eisen, White House ethics czar under Barack Obama who was the Democrats’ advocate during Trump’s first impeachment. Trump was first impeached in 2019 for his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian president to unearth Joe Biden, although he was also exonerated by the Senate for the charges after Mitt Romney was the only one republican to have voted to condemn.
“Among the many potential criminal issues raised by the president’s appeal to Georgia is the solicitation of electoral fraud. . . it raises issues of conspiracy under Georgian law, intentional interference in electoral functions, false statements, betrayal of the oath, potential racketeering issues. . . There is a lot of criminal exposure, ”Eisen said.
“If I were Donald Trump, I would be very, very worried.”
Meanwhile, Trump could also face charges in the District of Columbia, where federal prosecutors are in the midst of a full investigation into the January 6 riots that left five dead. More than 200 people have already been charged with federal crimes for their participation in the siege, and Karl Racine, the DC attorney general, has left the door open to the investigation and possibly the prosecution of Trump for incitement to violence.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has rejected legal efforts against him, as well as his impeachment, in “the biggest witch hunt in our country’s history.”
Legal experts warn that the legal standard for criminal incitement sets the bar high that would make it an uphill battle for lawyers to prove Trump’s guilt. This is in part due to the strong protections the First Amendment provides for free speech in the United States. In the landmark 1969 decision in Brandenburg vs. Ohio, the United States Supreme Court established a two-pronged test which determined that speech could be prohibited if it was “intended to incite or produce imminent unlawful action and is likely to incite or produce such an action ”.
“This is just a very high standard,” said Alan Rozenshtein, a University of Minnesota law school professor and former DoJ attorney.
“If we allowed incitement lawsuits every time someone called for a protest that turned into a riot, we would have a lot more incitement lawsuits,” he said. “I don’t think people on the political left, especially given the turmoil we experienced this summer, want to go down this path.”