This artist sketch depicts former President Donald Trump, seated right, listening as his attorney D. John Sauer, standing, speaks before a federal appeals court on Jan. 9 in Washington.
WASHINGTON — In a middle-of-the-night, all-caps social media post, Donald Trump for the first time appears to have conceded that his actions leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol may have broken the law.
“EVEN EVENTS THAT ‘CROSS THE LINE’ MUST FALL UNDER TOTAL IMMUNITY, OR IT WILL BE YEARS OF TRAUMA TRYING TO DETERMINE GOOD FROM BAD,” Trump wrote Thursday at 1:59 a.m. about the federal prosecution against him related to Jan. 6, 2021.
From the day a mob of his followers swarmed the Capitol building as they tried to help him coerce then-Vice President Mike Pence and Congress into awarding Trump a second term even though he had lost reelection, the former president has claimed that he acted completely appropriately. Of the four criminal prosecutions against Trump, he and his lawyers have only argued that he is immune in the federal Jan. 6 case.
“I did nothing wrong,” Trump told reporters last week after listening to oral arguments in his appeal of a trial court ruling that former presidents, in fact, do not have immunity from prosecution for crimes they committed while in office.
“It’s probably vague, conditional and hypothetical enough that it probably won’t be used by prosecutors as an admission of guilt … particularly because there is already overwhelming evidence of criminality,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., for two decades, in reference to the social media post.
“But if I was prosecuting Trump, I’d put a ‘Government Exhibit’ sticker on it just in case I decided to use it.”
Trump’s lawyers and staff did not respond to HuffPost queries.
The case under appeal includes four felony counts, accusing Trump of conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, obstructing an official proceeding, and conspiring to deprive millions of their votes.
Other lawyers agreed that Trump’s new statement is probably not useful to prosecutors.
“Hard to understand the rantings of a lunatic, but maybe,” said one prominent defense lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“I think he’s parroting his lawyers,” said George Conway, a vocal Trump critic who worked on the lawsuit against President Bill Clinton that ultimately led to his impeachment.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is likely to rule on Trump’s appeal relatively quickly. During the oral arguments, one of the three presented Trump’s lawyer with the hypothetical of whether a president could order SEAL Team Six to kill a political rival and never be criminally prosecuted for it.
D. John Sauer answered that, unless the House had impeached and the Senate had convicted him first, such an act would be immune.
If the three judges rule against him, Trump is almost certain to appeal, possibly first to the full appeals court, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In his 147-word social media post, Trump likened his own situation — in which he tried to remain in power despite losing — to that of police officers who must make split-second judgments.
“YOU CAN’T STOP POLICE FROM DOING THE JOB OF STRONG & EFFECTIVE CRIME PREVENTION BECAUSE YOU WANT TO GUARD AGAINST THE OCCASIONAL ‘ROGUE COP’ OR ‘BAD APPLE,’” Trump wrote. “SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO LIVE WITH ‘GREAT BUT SLIGHTLY IMPERFECT.’”
He ended by making clear his intended audience: “HOPEFULLY THIS WILL BE AN EASY DECISION. GOD BLESS THE SUPREME COURT!”
If Trump eventually loses his immunity argument, he will have to stand trial on felony charges that could send him to prison for decades. He also faces a Georgia state prosecution for his attempt to overturn the election in that state, a second federal prosecution for his refusal to turn over secret documents he was keeping at his South Florida country club, and a New York state indictment that charges him with falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to a porn star. He has pleaded not guilty in each case.
Despite the criminal charges, Trump is the polling leader for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. Earlier this week, he won the Iowa caucuses by a 30-point margin over the second-place finisher.