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'No legal capacity': Experts take cold look at Trump, Johnson's plan to 'overturn' conviction

'No legal capacity': Experts take cold look at Trump, Johnson's plan to 'overturn' conviction
'No legal capacity': Experts take cold look at Trump, Johnson's plan to 'overturn' conviction


Former President Donald Trump stopped in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to rally Republican lawmakers behind his 2024 bid and consider the 2025 legislative agenda. But before his first visit to the Capitol since his Jan. 6, 2021, remarks on the 'Timeskip and the ensuing riot at the Capitol, Trump raised the highest Republican rank in Congress with a bold demand.

In a phone call to House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., in the days after his felony conviction in New York, the former president began launching a campaign to exercise the powers of Congress against Democrats whom he accuses of “militarizing”. the legal system against him, reports Politico.

“We have to undo this,” Trump told Johnson during the call, characterized by Trump's continued anger over his conviction and frequent F-bombs, according to sources who have heard accounts of the exchange. speaker.

Trump's stated goal of “enlisting House Republicans” in efforts to overturn his conviction “shows not only that the former president lacks a fundamental understanding of how our system of government works, but it also demonstrates his continued lack of respect for our criminal justice system,” Temidayo said. Aganga-Williams, a former federal prosecutor and lead counsel for the House January 6 Committee, told Salon.

“Trump had his day in court and the jury returned a fair verdict,” said Aganga-Williams, a white-collar associate at Selendy Gay PLLC in New York. “Trump can appeal his verdict through normal channels, but instead he seeks to subvert the norms.”

Trump, both the nation's first former president to be charged with a crime and the first to be convicted, was found guilty late last month of 34 counts of falsifying business records after Prosecutors alleged he sought to illegally cover up an alleged sex scandal with an adult. film actress among voters before the 2016 presidential election. He has denied any wrongdoing and the allegations in the affair, continuing to call his prosecution after the verdict “rigged”.

The presumptive GOP nominee's sentencing is scheduled for July 11, just days before the Republican National Convention in Wisconsin. Legal experts previously told Salon that as a first-time offender of a lesser crime, the former president would likely avoid prison.

“Our justice system is trustworthy no matter what Trump says,” Aganga-Williams said. “The former president is not a victim of our system, he is rightly held accountable by the system.”

Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Salon that the reported exchange between Trump and the speaker was reminiscent of Trump's 2020 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger following the election, pressuring the state official to “find 11,780 votes” needed to overturn his mandate. electoral defeat in Georgia.

Unlike Raffensperger, however, Johnson sympathized with the former president's aggravation. He was the highest-ranking Republican leader to attend Trump's trial in Manhattan and called it an “illegitimate sham” that is “all about politics” outside the courthouse, continuing his criticism regarding the case of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whom he defended before winning the case. the speaker's gavel.

A person familiar with the conversation told Politico that Johnson didn't need much convincing. The former lawyer already believed the House could play a role in alleviating Trump's legal problems, and the two men have spoken about the issue several times since.

In reality, there's not much the House can do, legal experts say. Congress has “no legal ability” to get the former president's conviction overturned, according to Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and former federal prosecutor.

This is a “question of separation of powers as well as a question of federalism,” Rahmani explained. The federal government has no authority over the states other than that authorized by the Constitution, and in this case such authorization could not exist because it applies to two separate branches of government.

“You're talking about the federal legislature trying to tell the state executive branch what to do,” he said.

The status of Trump's conviction is therefore “a matter for the New York state courts, not Congress,” McQuade told Salon. Trump has already promised to appeal.

Most Congress could do is “retaliate against Alvin Bragg” by cutting federal grants and funding to state and local prosecutors, and requiring the prosecutor to “testify about how he uses grant money into his work,” McQuade added.

But Johnson also doesn't appear to have the support to meet the former president's expectations in congressional office, Politico notes. Within the party's slim majority in the lower house, members in swing districts are growing nervous as the GOP's effort to impeach President Joe Biden has all but faded.

A contempt vote Wednesday against Attorney General Merrick Garland barely passed, and a series of proposals targeting what Republicans call “rogue prosecutors” — those investigating Trump — appear to lack support among voters. members.

House Republican leaders on Wednesday afternoon also introduced a bill from Rep. Russell Fry, R-S.C., that aims to allow presidents indicted at the state level to bring those cases to federal court — a move which would effectively strip the powers of civil servants. like Bragg and Fani Willis, the Fulton County prosecutor handling Trump's Georgia prosecution. Fry's bill, introduced in April 2023 and reported by the Judiciary Committee last September, is only now being prepared for possible floor consideration.

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The speaker also discussed the possibility of using the appropriations process to target special counsel Jack Smith's cases against Trump with Judiciary Committee Chairman and staunch Trump ally Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

None of these proposals garnered the votes needed to pass, Politico notes. Appropriations Senior Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, called the idea of ​​cutting Smith's funding “stupid.”

“I don't think it's a good idea unless you can show it [the prosecutors] acted in bad faith or fraud or something like that,” he told the outlet. “They’re just doing their job, even though I don’t agree with what they did.”

“We accuse Democrats of militarizing the justice system. That’s exactly what we would do,” added another senior Republican skeptic who was granted anonymity to speak without fear of backlash from the right.

Yet Johnson's leadership remains steadfast in its goals. Fry — who told Politico he has yet to speak to Trump about his proposal — aims to educate his fellow House Republicans about legal precedent, arguing that if federal lawmakers, executive officials and judges can already legally attempt to have their local cases transferred to the Federal Court, the President should also do so.

“In my experience so far, more [House members] the more they’ve heard about it, the more comfortable they feel,” he said. “It’s not a unique concept.”

The federal referral Fry describes, however, comes with its own caveat, McQuade noted.

“Federal removal already exists, but only for crimes committed while in the line of duty as part of his official duties,” she said. “Stripping state courts of jurisdiction over crimes committed outside of federal office would be a violation of states’ rights.”

Even if Republican lawmakers allied with Trump do their best in his other trials, nothing can be done to help the former president secure his conviction, especially just weeks before his sentencing, Rahmani and McQuade said.

“Frankly, it is too late. He has been found guilty. He will be sentenced on July 11 and there will be a judgment,” Rahmani said. “There is no law that will pass the House, pass the Senate – controlled by the Democrats – and be signed by Biden that will help Donald Trump.”

“All they can do is use the political process to undermine public confidence in this conviction,” McQuade added.

Aganga-Williams said House Republicans would not succeed in trying to “impede” the remaining lawsuits against Trump in “any material way” because they do not have political power.

Instead, “these efforts will contribute to the continued erosion of trust in our institutions,” he argued. “These attempts at interference suggest to the American people that these prosecutions are not supported by evidence and that is simply not true. Our system may not be perfect, but it is good and it has been more than fair to Trump.”

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