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Trump Wasn't Convicted On Capitol Riot Charge, But Legal Repercussions Still Possible


The Senate has now closed one chapter in the deadly Capitol riot by acquitting former President Trump for his role in the insurrection. But could the former president face repercussions in the courts for what happened? Joining us now to talk about the federal investigation into the Capitol riot and Trump's other legal problems is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

Good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with the investigations involving Donald Trump. There are a few.

JOHNSON: For sure. There are several ongoing investigations by state and local officials. The district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., is looking at efforts to influence the 2020 general election in Georgia. We know those prosecutors are looking in particular at a call that Trump had with the Georgia secretary of state, leaning on him to find exactly enough votes that would have allowed Trump to win there.

And then in Manhattan, the district attorney there, Cy Vance, has been looking at Trump's business interests and his family members as well. That investigation has been going on for a long time now. It seems to be pretty broad, including taxes, potential insurance fraud and mortgage fraud and financial disclosures. And then here in Washington, D.C., the attorney general, Karl Racine, is looking at the events of January 6 at the Capitol and some Trump inaugural committee issues from several years ago.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We know the U.S. Justice Department never took any action against Trump, mostly because of its view that a sitting president can't face federal prosecution. He is a private citizen now. What are the odds that the DOJ will examine Trump's actions?

JOHNSON: Well, the acting U.S. attorney here in Washington, Michael Sherwin, is leading the investigation into the siege on the Capitol. He said they're looking at anyone and everyone with responsibility for the deadly riot that day. Prosecutors, we know, have charged more than 200 people already, including some conspiracy cases against extremists tied to the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers who said they acted at Trump's direction. One open question is whether some of these rioters could eventually lead the FBI to others inside the government.

Lulu, the reality is the Biden administration may not want to spend a whole lot of time investigating a former president. This is really politically sensitive stuff, especially following an administration where there were allegations of political interference in criminal cases involving allies and enemies and Donald Trump. President Biden says he's going to leave all of those decisions to the new leaders at the Justice Department.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is politically sensitive stuff, but what about civil litigation? Could the president face lawsuits, for example, for his role in inciting the violence?

JOHNSON: Yeah, legal experts say people who suffered injuries or even death during the violence at the Capitol could sue former President Trump, potentially. In fact, there's some reporting to suggest the White House counsel to Trump was warning him about that on January 6 and the days that followed as a reason to try to get Trump to come out forcefully and tell people to be peaceful and as a reason not to issue any pardons of rioters who were arrested as part of that attack.

But there are also some other civil cases that could pose a legal threat to Trump. I'm thinking here about a woman named E. Jean Carroll...


JOHNSON: ...Who sued Trump for defamation. She says that he raped her decades ago and then trash-talked her after she came forward. The Bill Barr Justice Department intervened to try to block that case, but those Trump Justice Department leaders aren't around anymore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Speaking of that new leadership, Biden's nominee to run the Justice Department isn't in place yet. What's the latest?

JOHNSON: Yeah. You know, Merrick Garland - Judge Merrick Garland famously never got a hearing to sit on the Supreme Court in the Obama years five years ago. Now the Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing to give Garland a hearing, finally, February 22. And the full committee could vote as early as early March, around March 1. But that means Merrick Garland won't be in place at the Justice Department for another few weeks.

And Lulu, he's going to have a lot of big decisions on his hands. One former prosecutor told me the Justice Department right now is, in some ways, like a salvage operation, that there may need to be a sweeping review of cases that Trump justice leaders brought and the cases that they did not bring to make sure all of those decisions in those last four years were above board.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson bringing us up to date.

Thank you so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: February 14, 2021 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier headline incorrectly said Donald Trump wasn't impeached for the Capitol riot. He was, in fact, impeached by the House in January on the charge of "incitement of insurrection." The Senate acquitted him of the charge on Feb. 13.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.