Here you can see how bad Donald Trump’s day was on Thursday.
The House of Representatives committee voted on January 6 to impeach him after revealing his depraved efforts to subvert the 2020 election and his dereliction of duty when his mob invaded the US capital.
But that was not the worst for the former president.
The committee’s dramatic but likely futile effort to get Trump to testify was a microphone moment to end its final hearing before the midterm elections and came with a warning that Trump owes the nation an explanation on a day of infamy in January 2021.
The hearing featured never-before-seen footage of congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, huddled in a safe place during the uprising and grappling with the implications of the pro-Trump mob’s attack on the Capitol. It also included almost pitiful accounts of the former president’s desperate attempts to avoid publicly admitting he was a loser in 2020, and it claimed his full understanding of his defeat made his subsequent actions all the more heinous.
But the development that could hurt Trump the most happened offstage. They reflect the extraordinary legal thicket surrounding the former president, who has not been charged with a crime, and the distance still left to run for efforts to account for his tumultuous exit from power and a presidency that constantly tested the rule of law.
While Trump has often defied gathering storms of investigation and, ever since launching his presidential campaign in 2015, has repeatedly confounded predictions of his imminent demise, there is a sense that he is slipping into an ever-deepening legal hole.
As the House Select Committee hearing continued, the Supreme Court sent word from across the street that it has no interest in getting sucked into Trump’s attempt to derail a Justice Department investigation into classified material he kept in Mar-a- Lake.
The court denied his urgent request to intervene, which could have delayed the case, without explaining why. No dissent was noted, including from conservative justices whom Trump elevated to the bench and whom he often seems to believe owe him a debt of loyalty.
For all the political drama surrounding the continuing revelations of one of the darkest days in modern American history on January 6, it is the showdown over classified documents that appears to represent the former president’s most clear and immediate threat of true criminal exposure.
While television stations broadcast comprehensive coverage of the committee hearing, several news stories emerged that hinted at additional serious legal problems the former president could face from another Justice Department investigation — also on Jan. 6. Contrary to the House version, the DOJ’s criminal investigation has the power to draft indictments.
Marc Short, a former chief of staff to then-Vice President Mike Pence, was seen leaving a courthouse in Washington, DC. Short had been forced to testify before the grand jury for the second time, according to a person familiar with the case, CNN’s Pamela Brown reported. Another Trump adviser, former national security assistant Kash Patel, was also seen walking into an area where the grand jury is meeting. Patel would not tell reporters what he was doing.
It is often the case that Trump’s legal threats do not come one after the other, but instead pile up at the same time.
CNN’s Brown had reported late Wednesday that a Trump staffer had told the FBI about being directed by the former president to move boxes out of a basement room at his Florida club after Trump’s legal team received a subpoena for any classified documents . The FBI also has surveillance footage showing an employee moving the boxes.
On the face of it, this development is troubling as it could suggest a pattern of deception that plays into a possible obstruction of justice charge. In the initial search warrant before the FBI showed up at Trump’s home in August, the agency told a judge there could be “evidence of obstruction” at the resort.
Still, David Schoen, who was Trump’s defense attorney in his second impeachment trial, told CNN’s “New Day” that while the details of what happened at Mar-a-Lago raised troubling questions, they weren’t necessarily a case of obstruction of justice .
But he added: “If President Trump or anyone acting on his behalf knew … that they had no right to have these documents in their possession, the documents belonged to the government or the American people, etc., and willfully disobeyed the subpoena the documents or prevented the documents from being found, then theoretically it could amount to obstruction.”
Trump’s day of deepening legal anxiety started with a jolt.
On Thursday morning, New York Attorney General Letitia James asked a state court to block the Trump Organization from moving assets and continuing to commit what she has alleged in a civil lawsuit is a decades-long fraud.
“There is every reason to believe that the defendants will continue to engage in similar fraudulent conduct right up to trial, unless checked by order of this court,” James wrote in a motion for a preliminary injunction attached to her $250 million lawsuit against Trump, his three oldest children and his company.
Trump has labeled the James investigation a stunt and denied wrongdoing. The Justice Department has not charged the former president or anyone else in its investigation into the Capitol riot. The House committee cannot press charges, although it is debating whether to send criminal referrals to the Department of Justice. Trump has also blasted the DOJ’s investigation into secret documents unearthed during the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago residence as a witch hunt and political persecution.
Those aren’t even the only investigations linked to Trump. There is also the matter of another investigation in Georgia into attempts by the former president and his allies to overturn the election in a crucial 2020 swing state.
As always, Trump came out fighting on Thursday, one of those days when the gravity of a crisis he faces can often be gauged by the ferocity of the rhetoric he uses to respond.
First Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich mocked the unanimous 9-0 vote of the select committee to subpoena the former president for documents and testimony.
“Press Trump will not be intimidated by their worthless rhetoric or un-American actions. Trump-endorsed candidates will sweep the Midterms and America First leadership and solutions will be restored,” Budowich wrote on Twitter.
The former president then weighed in on his Truth Social network with another post that did not answer the accusations against him, but was clearly designed to provoke a political reaction from his supporters.
“Why didn’t the Select Committee ask me to testify months ago? Why did they wait until the last, the last moments of their last meeting? Because the committee is a total ‘BUST,'” Trump wrote.
The former president has a point asking why the panel waited so long to call him. But his obstruction of the investigation and attempts to prevent former aides from testifying mean he is on thin ice in criticizing its conduct. And it’s not unusual for investigators to build a case before approaching the most prominent potential target of an investigation.
Given the former president’s history of obstructing efforts to investigate his tumultuous presidency, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t fight the subpoena, though there might be a part of him that would enjoy a prime-time spot in a direct hearing.
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, warned that the former president had an obligation to explain himself.
“The need for this committee to hear from Donald Trump goes beyond our fact-finding. This is a matter of accountability to the American people. He must be held accountable. He is required to answer for his actions,” Thompson said.
The subpoena could also give the bipartisan committee some cover from pro-Trump Republicans who argue it is a politicized attempt to impeach Trump, who has not allowed cross-examination of witnesses. If it wanted to enforce a subpoena, the committee would have to seek a contempt of Congress referral to the Justice Department from the full House. It took one such step with Trump’s political guru, Steve Bannon, who was found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress and soon faces sentencing.
But any attempt to follow a similar path if Trump refuses to testify could take months and involve protracted legal battles. It’s unclear whether the Justice Department would consider this a good investment, especially given the advanced state of its own investigation as of January 6. And there’s a good chance the committee will be swept into history anyway, with Republicans preferring to take over the House majority after the midterm elections.
Given the slim chance that Trump will comply with a congressional subpoena, many observers will see the dramatic vote to target the former president as another theatrical flourish in a set of slickly produced hearings that often resembled a televised courtroom drama.
But the committee’s Republican vice-chairman, Rep. Liz Cheney, said the investigation was no longer just about what happened on January 6, but about the future.
“With any effort to excuse or justify the behavior of the former president, we are eroding the foundation of our republic,” said the Wyoming lawmaker, who is not returning to Congress after losing his primary this summer to a Trump-backed challenger.
“Irresponsible behavior is defended, inexcusable behavior is excused. Without accountability, it all becomes normal and it will happen again.”