Former President Donald Trump has yet to hold his first campaign rally since announcing hisWhite House bid last week, but Democrats are throwing obstacles in an attempt to block his path to a second term.
Attorney General Merrick Garland’s appointment of a special counsel to investigate Mr. Trump, 76, opens the door to a yearslong probe that will drag into the primary campaign season and potentially culminate in criminal charges as Mr. Trump pursues his party’s nomination for president a third time.
It’s just one of many obstacles Democrats hope to use to prevent Mr. Trump from ever winning office again.
Beyond the government’s criminal investigation, which will examine whether Mr. Trump unlawfully tried to block President Biden’s 2020 election win and whether he illegally took classified documents from the White House, several groups backed by liberal organizations are coordinating efforts to convince state officials that Mr. Trump has committed treason and therefore should be prevented from appearing on the 2024 ballot.
In Congress, the Democratic-led Jan. 6 committee is poised to issue a report in the coming weeks that is expected to focus almost entirely on Mr. Trump’s efforts to prevent Mr. Biden from being declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election and his culpability in inciting the Jan. 6., 2021, riot at the Capitol by a group of his angry supporters.
Democrats are angling to hobble Mr. Trump even as they dare the former president to run again. They predict that his personality flaws and a weary Republican electorate will make him easy to defeat in the 2024 election.
“If Democrats are so confident that they could beat President Trump, why do they try to use these extreme legal measures to prevent the American people from voting for him?” said Mike Davis, a former top Republican Senate Judiciary Committee aide.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, called the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Mr. Trump just days after he announced hisWhite House bid “Trump derangement syndrome but this time with a gun and badge.”
The groups Free Speech for People and Mi Familia Vota don’t want voters to have the choice of electing Mr. Trump. They say states should use a Civil War-era clause in the Constitution to block Mr. Trump from appearing on a ballot because of his actions while trying to block Mr. Biden from being declared the winner of the 2020 election.
They say Mr. Trump committed insurrection by inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Mr. Biden’s win.
The rioters, who had attended a nearby rally held by Mr. Trump, stormed the Capitol, injuring police officers and trashing the building. Some of them formed mobs who went searching for Democratic leaders and Vice President Mike Pence. Lawmakers fled the Capitol, and it took hours for law enforcement and the National Guard to secure the building.
The two organizations said they are now “urging Secretaries of State and chief election officials across the country to follow the mandate of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment and bar Trump from any future ballot.”
The president and co-founder of Free Speech for People is John Bonifaz, a longtime Trump opponent who wrote a book in 2018 — one year after Mr. Trump took office — laying out the case for Congress to impeach him.
Mr. Trump is also the subject of various lawsuits and other criminal investigations.
The Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney opened a criminal investigation nearly two years ago into Mr. Trump’s actions to overturn the state’s 2020 election results, which narrowly favored Mr. Biden.
Mr. Trump also faces a lawsuit filed against him, the Trump Organization and its senior management, by New York Attorney General Letitia James. Ms. James has been pledging to take down Mr. Trump for years, calling him “an illegitimate president” in 2018. Her lawsuit accuses Mr. Trump and his family and senior business executives of inflating his net worth to secure favorable terms for business loans.
Media reports say federal prosecutors in New York are investigating claims that Mr. Trump’s media company broke federal securities law. The government also may be investigating whether Mr. Trump tried to sic the IRS on two political opponents, former FBI Director James B. Comey and his top deputy, Andrew McCabe, who were audited while Mr. Trump was president.
Left-leaning organizations, meanwhile, are building a case to justify criminal charges against the former president.
The New York University Law School site, Just Security, issued a 169-page “Model DOJ Prosecution Memo.” It outlined why Mr. Garland has no choice but to indict Mr. Trump on criminal charges related to the classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
The memo was authored by former prosecutors and other legal experts, including Andrew Weissmann, a former FBI lawyer who served on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.
“Times up, DOJ,” Mr. Weissmann tweeted last week. “The rule of law requires Trump be held to account, as others have been for like crimes. It’s been over 14 weeks since the [Mar-a-Lago] search and many months since the DOJ investigation began. Timely action is needed.”
Mr. Weissmann, a Trump critic who appears as a commentator on MSNBC, praised Mr. Garland’s decision to appoint longtime federal prosecutor Jack Smith as the special counsel and suggested that it could result in a quick decision regarding criminal charges against the former president.
Mr. Garland cited Mr. Trump’s announcement that he is running for president, along with Mr. Biden’s signal that he will run, as the reason for appointing an outside investigator. Mr. Smith is tasked with examining whether Mr. Trump broke any laws by taking classified material out of the White House when he left office. Mr. Smith will also examine whether Mr. Trump violated the law in his bid to stop Mr. Biden from being declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
“Jack Smith, the new Special Counsel, is a very aggressive prosecutor who represents the best of the Department, who will bring cases if warranted by facts and the law,” Mr. Weissmann said in a tweet after Mr. Garland’s announcement. “For those concerned that the appointment of a Special Counsel will delay things: just the opposite. Jack is a super fast, no-nonsense, and let’s-cut-to-the-chase kind of guy. And now, with less DOJ bureaucracy in decision-making, the investigations can move faster.”
Mr. Smith led the Justice Department’s public integrity section in 2014, when it prosecuted and convicted former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, on corruption charges.
Federal prosecutors said Mr. McConnell took gifts and money from a wealthy businessman who was promoting dietary supplements. The Supreme Court later voted unanimously to throw out the conviction, arguing it did not rise to the level of corruption.
Mr. McDonnell’s attorney, Noel Francisco of Jones Day, called the prosecution “flawed from its inception.”
Mr. Smith’s special counsel investigation into Mr. Trump may have to launch from the Netherlands. Mr. Garland said Mr. Smith would be immediately returning to the U.S. from The Hague, where he has been prosecuting war crimes, but a subsequent statement indicated that Mr. Smith would remain overseas while recovering from a bicycle accident.
Mr. Smith issued a statement after his appointment by Mr. Garland.
“I intend to conduct the assigned investigations, and any prosecutions that may result from them, independently and in the best traditions of the Department of Justice,” Mr. Smith said. “The pace of the investigations will not pause or flag under my watch. I will exercise independent judgment and will move the investigations forward expeditiously and thoroughly to whatever outcome the facts and the law dictate.”
Mr. Trump said in a Nov. 18 press conference that he would not “partake” in the investigation, which he characterized as part of a “never-ending witch hunt.” He called on Republicans, now in control of the House of Representatives, to fight the investigation.
Andrew McCarthy, a former Justice Department prosecutor and a critic of the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory that dogged Mr. Trump his entire term in office, warned that the former president is too entangled in legal problems to win back the White House.
“If your head is spinning, get used to being dizzy,” Mr. McCarthy wrote in the National Review. “What we’re seeing is an aging man with a history of poor judgment being consumed by a combustible compound: his propensity to court trouble combined with his enemies’ zeal to nail him.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled in one instance the last name of Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell.
• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at email@example.com.
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