Trump faces new legal problem in DOJ pressure allegations
Former President Trump is facing a new political quagmire as Senate Democrats open an investigation into allegations he pressured the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate his political opponents. Former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman wrote in a new book that the Justice Department under Trump pushed his office to pursue criminal cases against former Secretary of State John Kerry and others viewed as political opponents of Trump.
Democrats, who have been happy to elevate Trump and his conduct in the wake of an FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate, will look into the matter, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced Monday night.
“I welcome the investigation,” Berman said Tuesday morning on MSNBC. “The conduct that occurred was so outrageous and unprecedented. A light needs to be shined on it.”
Berman, who served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) from 2018 until he was forced to resign in 2020, alleges in his new book that his office was pursuing charges stemming from a guilty plea by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
He also cited an investigation into former Trump White House official Stephen Bannon, who was eventually charged and later pardoned before Trump left office.
In another instance, Berman said the DOJ referred a criminal case targeting Kerry to his office days after Trump sent two tweets attacking Kerry for communicating with Iranian officials about the Iran nuclear deal.
The Justice Department suggested the SDNY cite Kerry using a statute from 1799 that had never been successfully prosecuted, Berman said Tuesday morning.
The allegations levied by Berman, who ultimately left his post after then-Attorney General William Barr told him he had been fired at Trump’s request, present the latest headache for Trump as he preps for a 2024 presidential campaign.
While Trump has not made an announcement, he is viewed as more likely than not to jump into the race.
With that political backdrop, Democrats have seized on opportunities to elevate the former president’s conduct, which has made him unpopular with many independent voters. They’ve sought to tie him to GOP candidates for the House and Senate — a not terribly challenging task given Trump’s efforts to hold power over the GOP through primary endorsements.
President Biden earlier this month delivered a speech decrying Trump and “MAGA Republicans” who are aligned with him as an urgent threat to democracy, framing the midterms as a matter of protecting democratic values.
Democrats have been happy to discuss Trump’s handling of classified materials, which is at the center of a DOJ investigation into dozens of documents the former president took with him to his Mar-a-Lago home upon leaving office. The FBI searched the property last month after it was unable to get the materials back from Trump.
Trump’s conduct around the 2020 election and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol will likely be brought back into the public eye in the weeks before the midterms as a House panel focused on Jan. 6 plans to resume its work.
Trump allies are a focus of an investigation in Georgia into a scheme to send alternate electors to Congress who would back Trump over Biden in 2020, despite Biden winning the state.
Berman’s claims in his new book are the latest Trump-centric controversy that Democrats have said they will look into.
Durbin wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday night, as first reported by The New York Times, asking the Justice Department to provide documents related to Berman’s claims, specifically the cases related to Cohen and Kerry.
“The claims made by former U.S. Attorney Berman indicate astonishing & unacceptable deviations from DOJ’s mission to pursue impartial justice—and compound the already serious concerns raised by then-AG Barr’s 2020 efforts to replace Mr. Berman and install a Trump loyalist at SDNY,” Durbin said in a statement.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said Berman’s allegations could pose legal trouble for Trump down the line if the Justice Department decides to open an investigation based on Durbin’s findings.
Tobias downplayed any imminent probe involving Barr, noting that the former attorney general is likely more useful as an ally in Democratic investigations into Trump than as a target of one. Barr has appeared before the House Jan. 6 committee, and he has in recent weeks appeared on Fox News to undercut Trump’s defenses against the search of his Mar-a-Lago estate.
“It will at least be another political headache for Trump as the allegations continue to multiply,” Tobias said.