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For Trump, accountability is still possible and necessary

The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump may have ended with an acquittal on Saturday, but Trump’s trials and tribulations are far from over. This fact should trouble the former president but comfort those who believe the powerful shouldn’t evade accountability.

Trump is still facing possible prosecution and civil actions in courtrooms around the country. In Washington DC, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proposed a national commission to examine and report on the January 6th insurrection. This commission would operate much like the one convened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This is just one of many challenges confronting Trump. In addition to Pelosi’s proposal for a commission, which would only be established with action by the House, Senate and President, four House committees have announced plans to investigate. This effort would inevitably focus on Trump’s role in ginning-up the rage among his rabid followers with a months-long campaign alleging the election was stolen from him. Though defeated in nearly every court he entered with such claims, Trump continued to allege fraud where none existed and to inflame his followers.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, is personally suing Trump, and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani along with two organizations called the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers for conspiring to prevent him from carrying out his duties — namely, trying to interrupt Congress as it met to certify the results of the 2020 election on the day of the Capitol insurrection.

Backed by the NAACP, Thompson’s civil suit cites a statute designed to address intimidation practiced by the Ku Klux Klan. It notes Giuliani’s January 6 speech prior to the riot, in which he called for “trial by combat.” It also cites Trump’s address at the same rally where he told the crowd, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Trump dismissed the impeachment trial after his acquittal as “another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country.” It’s more accurate to say that the trial was the latest effort among many mounted to hold Trump accountable. As a private citizen, he often frustrated civil litigants who brought him to court and this record gave him a reputation for invincibility. Trump, however, was held to account in the case of alleged fraud involving Trump University and practices by his charity.

The second impeachment trial, in which 57 senators voted to convict, demonstrated Congress’s own desire to hold Trump accountable. Republicans who saved Trump from the two-thirds vote required for conviction stood on their claims that the Senate should not try former office holders. Afterwards Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear he didn’t consider Trump exactly innocent. “Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”

Beyond Washington, Trump faces peril in Fulton County, Georgia, where District Attorney Fani Willis has opened an investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the Peach State. The investigation was announced after an audio recording of an hour-long call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger revealed the former President said, “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” — a number that would have given him a one-vote victory over Joe Biden. “The people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry,” said Trump. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, that you’ve recalculated.”

The call was made as Trump was running out of ways to challenge the results of the election. Rebuffed by one court after another, Trump resorted to trying to cajole Georgia’s Secretary of State. At one point the conversation took an ominous turn as Trump told Raffensperger that his failure to act on the basis of what Trump claimed was fraud might violate some law. “That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan (Germany), your lawyer.”

Jason Miller, a senior advisor to Trump, said in a statement that there “was nothing improper or untoward” about the phone call.

In New York, the Manhattan district attorney’s office recently expanded its criminal investigation into the Trump Organization’s finances to include a 212-acre property in Westchester County. New York Attorney General Letitia James is paying close attention: her office is conducting a civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization overstated the value of his assets in order to get more favorable loans and insurance coverage.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York subpoenaed members of Trump’s inaugural committee as part of its investigation into potential crimes by the committee. Former Melania Trump adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, an organizer of 2016 inaugural events, has said she is cooperating with the prosecutors.

In a statement to The New York Times, Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, said, “Everything was done in strict compliance with applicable law and under the advice of counsel and tax experts,” adding, “All applicable taxes were paid and no party received any undue benefit.”

In addition, investigators in the Washington, DC attorney general’s office are looking into whether it is legally viable to charge Trump for his alleged role in the Capitol Hill attack. The AG’s office told CNN that Trump’s incitement could fall under a statute that makes it a misdemeanor to incite violence. Even McConnell suggested Trump could be subject to criminal prosecution when he told the Senate after the vote on Saturday that “impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice” and that former Presidents “are not immune from being held accountable.”

While Trump may be celebrating the Senate’s decision to acquit him in his second impeachment trial, it seems his troubles are not necessarily over. As CNN has reported, he is worried that he could face charges in the future.

The rest of us should be reassured that accountability, in many forms, is still possible. Trump and his most ardent followers might resent commissions or courts taking up this work and prefer we all focus on reconciling and moving on. But failing to explore and document the harm done by Trump would constitute yet one more injury.

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