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As Trump investigations heat up, signs of desperation emerge

March was not a good month for Donald Trump.

Last week alone, Trump got four major pieces of bad news.

On March 27, the New York Times reported that investigators were focused on the role of his Dec. 19, 2020, “it will be wild” tweet inviting supporters to the Capitol on Jan. 6. The focus is on the tweet as a call to action to extremist groups.

On March 28, a federal court said in an opinion that it was “more likely than not” that Trump committed crimes at the end of his term trying to overturn the election.

On March 29, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reported a seven-hour Jan. 6 gap in Trump’s White House phone log, a gap that covered the entire Jan. 6 siege.

On March 30, reports emerged that the Justice Department was expanding its investigation into the role of members of Trump’s circle in planning the Jan. 6 rally and of Trump allies’ connections to the bogus electoral slate certificates that seven states’ Republicans had sent to Congress for the Jan. 6 electoral vote count.

So desperate was the former president to change the subject mid-week that he publicly asked one of the world’s “most hated men” — Vladimir Putin — to disclose dirt on Hunter Biden. Following the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s “favorables” in America dropped to 4 percent.

Soliciting help from someone whose favorability polls in the range of Charles Manson’s can hardly help one’s own political standing.

Also reflecting desperation was another Trump action late last month, apparently to escape the increasing risk of exposing his endorsement’s weakness. On March 20, Trump withdrew his support for Rep. “Mo” Brooks (R-Ala.) to become an Alabama Senator. Trump’s explanation? He said that Brooks had gone “woke.”

Mo Brooks? Gone “woke?” The man’s campaign website blares that he “voted 50+ times to repeal or defund” Obamacare, and it proudly displays a photo of Brooks at the Jan. 6 rally, where he declared that “today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” moments before the violent Capitol siege. That Mo Brooks?

Trump’s preposterous reason for withdrawing his endorsement wasn’t the only thing that suggested a desperate mind. A more calm evaluation might have considered Brooks’s capacity to retaliate: Trump’s attack triggered Brooks to disclose that as recently as September 2021, Trump had asked Brooks to “illegally rescind” the 2020 election of President Biden. All while the Select Committee is actively investigating Trump, and the DOJ seems to be closing in.

The desperation seems understandable, with Trump apparently “on the brink of war” with Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of Trump’s putative rivals for the 2024 nomination. Earlier this year, polling and fundraising figures “showed slippage” in the former president’s standing.

The slide was reflected in February when former Vice President Mike Pence went so far as to say that Trump’s claim that Pence had the power to reject or delay the electoral count vote on Jan. 6 was “un-American.”

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointedly said that Trump’s views on midterms are “irrelevant,” a word that is anathema to any politician. Its use showed how unafraid of Trump McConnell has become.

Powerful political opposition and criminal investigations would shake the most sure-footed politician. In Trump’s case, there can be little doubt that one motivation in his quest for a return to the presidency is the immunity that the office confers under current Justice Department memos. 

As a former federal prosecutor who worked under those guidelines, I know that should Trump declare his candidacy — if he is not under federal indictment at the time — it could be difficult even to indict him. And if he is indicted before he declares, it will be difficult to try him while he runs.

Those barriers would disappear if he loses the race for the Republican nomination before — or at — the Republican National Convention in summer 2024. 

And so he is desperate to keep his grip. Unfortunately, the desperation may end up helping him to lose it.

Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor, currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy

Tags 2024 election Capitol insurrection Capitol riot DeSantis v. Trump Donald Trump Donald Trump Donald Trump presidential campaign Jan. 6 Capitol attack Jan. 6 rally January 6 Committee Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Mo Brooks Trump endorsements Trump investigations Trump tweets Vladimir Putin

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