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Is the Justice Department Being Used as a “Weapon” Against Certain Individuals for Political Purposes?


This week’s Fakchex looks at the facts behind charges that the Justice Department is investigating and indicting individuals for political purposes, not because there is evidence of guilt.

Former president Donald Trump made history on August 14 by becoming the first president to be indicted four times. Trump and other Republicans have pushed back against these legal actions, claiming that the charges are part of a broader “weaponization” of the Justice Department by Democrats to damage Trump politically. Are the charges against Trump really based on corrupt political maneuvering? Is he being treated unfairly compared to other political figures?

First, it is important to note that the evidence for each indictment was investigated by a grand jury, who in each instance voted that there was enough evidence to warrant issuing charges and going to trial.

Trump’s four indictments are primarily based on three issues. On March 30, a grand jury in New York voted to indict Trump related to investigations into circumstances of “hush money” payments to former adult film star Stormy Daniels, to prevent her from publicly releasing details about the affair.  The indictment was brought by the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and includes 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, to which Trump plead not guilty. A helpful review of the case can be found here.

Then, on June 8, a grand jury in the Southern District of Florida indicted Trump as part of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s Justice Department investigation into Trump’s possession of classified documents at his Mar a Lago residence. The indictment asserts that Trump intentionally held on to documents containing military and intelligence secrets which he knew were classified, and that he conspired to conceal certain documents from attempts by the government to recover them. Forty felony counts are made against Trump including obstructing justice, altering and/or destroying information, and other actions. More details are here.

The final two indictments are related to election interference. On August 1, a grand jury in Washington, D.C. indicted Trump for alleged conspiracy to “steal” the 2020 presidential election. The indictment came as part of a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice, led by special council Jack Smith, into the circumstances of the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Charges included four felony counts:

  • Conspiracy to defraud the United States including a plot to overturn the results of the 2020 election
  • Conspiracy to obstruct official proceedings including a plot to prevent the certification of the 2020 election
  • Obstructing an official proceeding, including actually blocking the certification of the 2020 election
  • A conspiracy against rights, meaning a plan to deprive a person of a constitutional right—specifically, the right to vote

More information about the circumstances of that case are available here.

Then, on August 14, a grand jury in Georgia indicted Trump for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. The thirteen felony charges in the indictment include racketeering, solicitation of a public officer to violate their oath, and several conspiracies to commit forgery, false statements, file false documents, and other actions. Unlike the previous indictments related to the federal election, this case brought charges against Trump as well as 18 of his associates in an alleged conspiracy, including Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, Sydney Powell, and others. More details and information about the indictment can be found here.

Trump has argued that President Biden is using his control of the Justice Department to damage Trump politically with illegitimate charges. He and Republicans have pointed a finger at Hunter Biden, the president’s son, as an example of his unfair treatment, claiming that Hunter Biden is receiving favorable treatment compared to Trump. His use of the phrase “Biden Crime Family” also implies that the Bidens are guilty of unnamed crimes yet are not being prosecuted to the same extend that Trump is.

Hunter Biden has been dealing with his own legal issues for several years, in a combination of law enforcement probes and investigations from the House of Representatives. The U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware has been investigating Hunter since 2018 in relation to whether he correctly paid taxes on several income streams, including some business efforts overseas in China and Ukraine. The probe also examined whether Hunter lied in an application for a gun in 2018 about not using drugs as he later admitted to being addicted to some drugs in that timeframe. The investigation included an incident near the end of the 2020 election when Rudy Giuliani claimed to have material from a laptop that Hunter abandoned at a computer repair outlet related to his business dealings in China and Ukraine. No evidence has yet emerged that the laptop held proof of wrongdoing concerning his business, nor did it have any evidence that his father had any involvement in them.

A grand jury heard testimony from some of Hunter’s business partners, including Devon Archer, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company (Burisma) with Hunter. House Republicans asserted that Archer’s testimony lent credibility to bribery accusations against President Biden: however, Archer actually testified that the then-vice president was not involved by Hunter in their business affairs. These issues played a part in one of Trump’s impeachments, when a transcript of a call between the then-president and Ukraine’s president revealed he pressured Ukraine to investigate the Biden’s business activities there. Republicans have maintained accusations that President Biden was able to profit from his son’s business activities in Ukraine and China, but so far they have not provided any evidence that there was wrongdoing.

In June, Hunter agreed to a guilty plea for two tax-related misdemeanor charges in an agreement to avoid one felony gun charge. The plea deal fell apart, however, when a federal judge found it unsatisfactory. Two whistleblowers – career IRS figures who had worked on the Hunter investigation – also claimed that political meddling had attempted to soften his punishment, though no evidence of the claims has yet been presented. The Justice Department probe is now likely moving to trial, and the US Attorney leading the investigation, David Weiss (who was appointed by Trump), was recently designated a special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland. The classification gives Weiss additional independence from the Justice Department, and neither the White House nor Hunter’s legal team were reportedly informed ahead of time about the decision.

So far, it seems that proper procedures have been followed, charges have been based on a grand jury’s investigation of evidence, and neither party is receiving unfavorable or favorable treatment. The process is the same, for both individuals, as it would be for any other individual in those circumstances.


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