‘The walls are closing in’: Trump reels from week of political setbacks

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The last time Donald Trump heard such hammer blows, they were from renovations at Mar-a-Lago that displeased the former president. But not even that sound would have left his ears ringing like last week’s avalanche of bad news that some believe nudged a criminal indictment one step closer.

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No single week in the year since Trump left the White House has been as dramatic, or for him as potentially catastrophic, as the one just passed.

It included a rebuke from the supreme court over documents related to the 6 January insurrection which Trump incited; news that the congressional committee investigating the riot was closing in on Trump’s inner circle; evidence from New York’s attorney general of alleged tax fraud; and, perhaps most damaging of all, a request from a Georgia prosecutor for a grand jury in her investigation of Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

The week ended with the leaking of a document showing that Trump at least pondered harnessing the military in his attempts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.

It all left the former president with plenty to ponder.

“He’s Teflon Don, he said he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and survive it, his supporters are going to support him no matter what, but I’m starting to think more and more that the walls are closing in on this guy,” said Kimberley Wehle, a respected legal analyst and professor of law at the University of Baltimore.

“The most immediate thing is the grand jury in Georgia because there’s audio of him trying to get [secretary of state] Brad Raffensperger to ‘find’ votes. Under Georgia election laws as I read them that is potentially a crime.

“The looming question is whether Trump will be indicted along with 11 others so far for seditious conspiracy [over the 6 January Capitol attack]. To me that’s the biggest turn of events … the justice department believes they have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of an agreement, a meeting of minds to overturn a legitimate election.

“And that there are a lot of high-level people that are looped into it, including potentially Donald Trump himself, and of course he’s not president, so he’s not immune from prosecution any more.”

It is that Department of Justice investigation into the deadly Capitol assault, parallel but separate to the 6 January House committee, which harbors the most legal peril for Trump. Some believe sedition charges for members of the Oath Keepers militia indicate that the inquiry has moved into a higher gear.

We have to think about the 6 January committee as getting information to voters before November

Kimberley Wehle

Others, most recently Preet Bharara, former district attorney for the southern district of New York, have questioned why it appears members of Trump’s inner guard, including former chief of staff Mark Meadows, have not yet been questioned.

“It’s just not a possibility they’ve tried to interview, you know, a dozen of the top people at and around the White House like the [6 January] committee has [because] they squeal like stuck pigs when people approach them,” Bharara told The New Abnormal podcast, a Daily Beast podcast.

“It’s odd to have allowed all this testimony to be collected, all these documents to be subpoenaed and compiled, and they don’t look like they’ve done any of these interviews. There are some lower-level people who breached the doors to the Capitol, but I don’t think those people are giving it up in a straight line to Trump.”

At a rare press conference earlier this month, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, did not mention Trump by name but sought to reassure critics of his investigation.

“The justice department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law – whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy,” he said in a carefully worded address.

The objectives of the House committee are easier to divine and more likely in the immediate term to cause political harm to Trump as he mulls another White House run.

Thursday’s request for testimony from his daughter Ivanka, a former White House adviser, brings the investigation to the heart of Trump’s inner circle. Trump’s actions are also set to be explored in primetime TV hearings that Jamie Raskin, a Democratic member of the committee, has promised will “blow the roof off the House”.

The panel also scored a big victory on Wednesday when the supreme court ended Trump’s efforts to shield more than 700 pages of White House records. The treasure trove of documents included a draft executive order directing the Department of Defense to seize voting machines, and appointing a special counsel to look into the election, in support of Trump’s “big lie” that the election was stolen.

Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice.
Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice. Photograph: Getty Images

“Documents don’t die, they don’t lie,” Wehle said. “A witness can say, ‘Oh, I don’t recall,’ and dance around it. Documents cannot. Secondly, the documents will lead to more people to discuss what happened, including Ivanka Trump.”

Trump himself has been uncharacteristically quiet about his week of setbacks, other than two statements attacking Fani Willis, the Democratic district attorney for Fulton county, Georgia, for requesting a grand jury to assist her investigation into his election interference.

Related: Draft Trump order told defense chief to seize swing-state voting machines

“The people looking for the crime are being hounded and the people who committed the crime are being protected,” he said. “This is not the American way.”

To Wehle, the week’s developments have significance not only for Trump but for November midterm elections in which Republicans are tipped to reclaim Congress.

“We have to think about the January 6th committee as getting information to voters before November about sitting members who might be up for reelection,” she said.

“The question is not so much whether Trump will be indicted, but who in a seat of power in the US Congress was potentially involved in this conspiracy.

“Frankly, if American democracy is to be saved from single-party minority rule, November is absolutely vital.”

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