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DOJ ups the pressure on Trump as it looks into his actions to overturn the election

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

The Justice Department appears to be ratcheting up the pressure on former President Donald Trump. According to The Washington Post and others, federal prosecutors are looking into Trump's actions to overturn the 2020 election results. That includes the DOJ taking a closer look at the so-called fake elector scheme. To talk about what this all means, I'm joined now by former federal prosecutor Brian Jacobs, who served as deputy chief of appeals in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN JACOBS: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

KHALID: Thank you. So what do these reports tell us about the direction of the Justice Department's investigation?

JACOBS: Well, the DOJ clearly has been investigating the events of January 6 since January 6 itself. Hundreds of people have been charged with crimes coming out of that - of the events that day. What the recent reports tell us is that the focus of the DOJ's investigation may increasingly be turning to the actions of the former president and his aides, the actions that have been the subject of the January 6 committee hearings.

KHALID: But to be clear, the department has not opened a specific investigation into Trump himself.

JACOBS: There are no reports saying that the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into one particular person or another. But the reports do suggest the focus is increasingly on former President Trump's conduct.

KHALID: Attorney General Merrick Garland gave an interview to NBC that aired earlier this week. And, you know, when he was asked about the possibility of indicting the former president, he responded this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS")

MERRICK GARLAND: We intend to hold everyone - anyone - who was criminally responsible for events surrounding January 6 for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another accountable.

KHALID: But, you know, Brian, in the 200-plus-year history here in the United States, not a single former president has ever been indicted for criminal conduct. And so I'm curious what you think makes this case different.

JACOBS: What makes this case different, in substantial part, is the character and quality of the evidence that has emerged - so far, at least - from the January 6 committee hearings - and it's available right now for the public to see - regarding what the former president did on January 6 and in the days leading up to it. I think the conduct that's being reported is unprecedented. Just as you say, the charges against a former president are unprecedented. Certainly, there have been charges against many current and former public officials throughout the country's history.

KHALID: You know, there is certainly talk that the former president is mulling another presidential run. Could that possibly, you know, protect him from being indicted? Could it factor in to the DOJ investigation?

JACOBS: I think prosecutors in the Department of Justice all know that they are not allowed to select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of effecting any election. There's a general policy of non-interference. At the same time, prosecutors generally follow the evidence and bring cases that are justified by the evidence. If the former president were to announce a run and were to be running for office again, the question is how would that impact a potential criminal case? I think it would certainly weigh on prosecutors. I think it would ratchet up the importance of building a strong case, a solid case, a case that would get past a jury and that would prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But if that case is there, I don't think that the fact that the former president is - has announced a run for office or is running for office would change the - what the DOJ does.

KHALID: You know, we've got about 30 seconds or so left. And I wanted to hear what your perspective is on how important this case is for the country - the country is certainly deeply divided, and this president remains enormously popular with a subset of Americans - but also what it means for the reputation of the Justice Department.

JACOBS: It is an incredibly important case. We saw with Steve Bannon's conviction that juries can follow the law and convict and put politics aside. And in a case of this magnitude, I think we would expect the same, that the Department of Justice and juries will look at the evidence, assess the evidence, and try to come to a result that is based on the evidence rather than based on politics.

KHALID: All right. Well, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

JACOBS: Thank you.

KHALID: That's former federal prosecutor Brian Jacobs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.