A forthcoming subpoena and a cascade of disadvantageous court rulings made last week particularly trying for the ex-president.
Last week was a particularly trying one for Trump. He faced a blizzard of bad news, on multiple fronts, underscoring his exposure now that he is just a regular citizen and not president.
The highlight came on Thursday, when the House January 6 committee held its last public hearing before the midterm elections in November. Committee members made the case that Trump himself brought on the January 6 insurrection aimed at stopping Congress from certifying Joe Biden as president. The committee’s vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., called Trump the “central player” of January 6.
During the hearing, the committee revealed evidence that Trump incited the insurrection, even though he had privately acknowledged that he knew he’d lost. The committee aired testimony from a former Trump White House aide who recalled going into the Oval Office a week after the November, 2020 election, and finding Trump watching television. “Can you believe I lost to this fucking guy?” Trump asked the aide, referring to Biden.
The panel voted unanimously to subpoena Trump to testify. But that was just the beginning of Trump’s very bad week.
While the House hearing was underway on Thursday, the Supreme Court, which Trump had packed with three ultraconservative justices, and which he might thus have expected to be sympathetic to his cause, ruled against him. The court rejected a key Trump appeal of a lower-court ruling, part of his broader legal strategy to stop the Justice Department and the FBI from using the classified documents found during a court-authorized search of his Mar-a-Lago home in August. Trump wants the government to be forced to return the documents to him, which he apparently thinks would stop the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation in connection with the documents; the Supreme Court’s terse order effectively rejected that notion.
The ruling followed press reports Wednesday that a Trump employee has told the FBI that, as government officials sought to retrieve thousands of documents that Trump was keeping at Mar-a-Lago, Trump personally ordered the employee to move the boxes containing the documents to his residence. Security camera footage of the employee moving the boxes appears to corroborate his story. Such testimony could be damning evidence in an obstruction of justice case against Trump.
Other legal problems for Trump surfaced elsewhere last week. Marc Short, the chief of staff for former Vice President Mike Pence, testified Thursday before a federal grand jury in Washington in connection with the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump had sought to block Short’s testimony, invoking executive privilege, but a judge rejected that claim. The ruling could ultimately make it easier for federal prosecutors to get other former top Trump administration officials to testify before the grand jury.
The former president’s legal problems continued in New York, where Attorney General Letitia James asked a judge on Thursday to prevent Trump’s company from selling or moving assets without court approval. James wants to stop Trump from trying to shield his money from the possible penalties he may face as a result of the lawsuit she filed in September against Trump, three of his children, and their family business. In that suit, James accused them of engaging in a prolonged fraud by falsifying the value of company assets. Her office has also referred the evidence gathered in her civil lawsuit to federal prosecutors for a criminal investigation.
Finally, in yet another courtroom back in Washington, Trump’s long-standing efforts to discredit the FBI’s investigation into alleged collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign and the Kremlin took another damaging hit this week. While Trump was still president, then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr appointed John Durham as special prosecutor to investigate the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation. The appointment was Barr’s gift to Trump; Durham’s mission was to search for wrongdoing in the way the investigation was opened and conducted.
But while Durham has stayed on as a special prosecutor long after the end of the Trump administration, his attempts to prove that the Trump-Russia case was a politicized bad faith effort to undermine Trump have largely failed. He has had only two cases that have led to charges, and the first one fell apart in May, when Michael Sussmann, a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, was acquitted on charges of lying to the FBI for sharing a tip about Trump and Russia.
This week, his last remaining case, against FBI informant Igor Danchenko, has taken a series of damaging hits. Durham charged Danchenko with lying to the FBI about issues related to the Trump-Russia investigation, particularly the so-called Steele dossier, a collection of rumors and tips about possible ties between Trump and Russia compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Danchenko was a source for Steele, while also serving as an FBI informant.
But the FBI agents who Durham brought in to testify have undermined Durham’s case and defended Danchenko. They have said that he was a valuable informant, and one testified that the Steele dossier had nothing to do with the opening of Crossfire Hurricane, the code name for the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation. On Friday, the judge in the case dismissed one of the charges brought against Danchenko, damaging Durham’s prosecution even further.
A few more weeks like this one might bankrupt Trump or land him in prison — or he might just officially announce that he’s running for president in 2024.