Donald Trump’s acquittal in a Senate impeachment trial on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the United States Capitol violence does not spell an end to possible accountability – or legal troubles – for the former president.
Trump’s actions and words leading up to the deadly January 6 violence, in which rioters stormed the seat of the US legislature as Congress met to certify the election victory of President Joe Biden, garnered more bipartisan support for conviction than any previous Senate impeachment trial.
Legislators from both parties have since increasingly called for Congress to set up an independent commission, like that created after the 9/11 attacks.
Notably, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, long considered one of Trump’s closest allies, suggested such a commission is needed “to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again”.
“His behaviour after the election was over the top,” Graham, who voted to acquit Trump, told Fox News on Sunday.
An independent commission, which would need to be created through legislation, could determine “what was known, who knew it and when they knew, all that, because that builds the basis so this never happens again”, while removing the tinge of partisan politics, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, who voted to convict Trump and has since been censured by the party in Louisiana, told ABC News.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had already floated such a commission to colleagues before Trump’s acquittal, with several prominent Democrats in the Senate renewing the push in the wake of the trial.
In an interview with ABC News, Democrat Representative Madeleine Dean called for “an impartial commission, not guided by politics, filled with people who would stand up to the courage of their conviction”.
Seemed like time to retweet this call for a 9/11 like commission to investigate and tell the story of Jan 6 and the lead up to it. The rushed, no witnesses impeachment trial only scratched the surface. https://t.co/E13QfqPan7
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) February 15, 2021
The ranking Democrats and Republicans of two Senate committees – the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules Committee – had previously announced plans to probe the incident.
In the House, where several committees are probing the violence, Pelosi has also asked retired army Lieutenant General Russel Honore to lead an immediate review of the Capitol’s security process.
Criminal and civil woes
Trump could also face more imposing trouble in any criminal cases filed against him as local and federal authorities continue to probe the violence, as well as civil cases filed by those affected by the riot.
As a private citizen, Trump is no longer protected from legal liability, as he was when in office, and could be charged with inciting the riot. Such a federal charge would need prosecutors to prove that Trump knew his words and actions would lead to violence – a high standard established in a 1969 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader.
The attorney general of District of Columbia has also said his office was looking into whether Trump violated a local law that prohibits statements that motivate people to violence. The charge is a misdemeanour that carries a maximum of six months in jail.
Possibly working against Trump could be the impeachment trial revelation that when Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy asked Trump in a mid-riot phone conversation to call off his supporters, Trump responded: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
Such a comment could be interpreted to indicate Trump understood and condoned the rioters’ intention. Statements from rioters themselves, some of whom have directly blamed Trump for their actions, could also work against the president.
Trump’s vulnerability to future conviction did not go unacknowledged by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who gave a blistering speech after voting to acquit Trump.
McConnell charged that rioters “beat and bloodied our own police”, threatened to hunt down Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and “chanted about murdering the vice president” because “they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth – because he was angry he’d lost an election”.
The top Republican said he had voted to acquit Trump only because he believed holding an impeachment trial for a president after they have left office is unconstitutional. However, he said: “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run.”
“He didn’t get away with anything yet,” he added.
Beyond the Capitol
Outside of the Capitol violence, Trump continues to face a bevy of possible legal troubles.
Most recently, prosecutors in Georgia opened a criminal investigation related to Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results in the state. That includes a January 2 call in which Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the votes needed to reverse Biden’s victory there.
New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance has also been leading a years-long investigation that focuses, in part, on alleged hush-money payments Trump made to two women, and whether his businesses manipulated their assets to gain favourable loan terms and tax benefits.
A decision is expected soon by the Supreme Court on whether Vance can obtain eight years of Trump’s tax records and other financial information from accounting firm Mazars.
Trump’s financial records – long a subject of speculation – could lead to further investigation and possible charges, depending on their contents.
State Attorney General Letitia James is also conducting a civil investigation into whether Trump businesses falsely inflated property values.
Trump also faces legal proceedings related to allegations of sexual misconduct and rape. E Jean Carroll, a writer, currently has a pending defamation lawsuit that accuses Trump of raping her in a New York department store in the 1990s. She says Trump accused her of lying about the incident to sell books. Trump has denied the allegations.
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on the Trump-hosted The Apprentice television show, is also accusing Trump of sexual misconduct, unwanted kissing and groping in a defamation lawsuit.