Thursday, April 11

Editorial: Insurrection-day phone record gap hints that Trump may have committed crimes

A steady drip of evidence continues to indicate that former President Donald Trump may have personally committed crimes in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection. A federal judge said as much on Monday, finding that facts show it is “more likely than not” Trump on that day committed the federal crimes of obstructing Congress and conspiring to defraud the U.S.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post and CBS News reported there is a seven-hour, 37-minute gap in official phone logs turned over to Congress regarding Trump’s calls as the attack unfolded — this despite reporting from the time showing Trump was on calls throughout the event.

Did Trump use an undocumented “burner” phone, favored communication mode of mobsters and other criminals, to hide his activity that day? If so, why? Politically fraught as it may be, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that a full-bore criminal investigation by the Justice Department is warranted.

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Trump’s documented activities alone between the November 2020 election and Jan. 6 are a parade of impropriety at least bordering on criminality. In court and in public, he spread pernicious lies about voter fraud, with zero evidence. He personally hounded state election officials, including Georgia’s secretary of state, of whom Trump demanded, “find 11,780 votes” — the exact margin he needed to win the state.

On the day of the Capitol riot, Trump incited his followers to “fight like hell” shortly before they stormed the building and halted the election certification. Then he refused for hours to intercede, ignoring pleas from his own advisers to call off the horde. He harangued and pressured his own vice president, Mike Pence, to illegally throw the election, then publicly condemned Pence for refusing.

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Prior reporting has established that Pence was among those with whom Trump talked by phone on Jan. 6 during the 457 minutes when, the logs turned over to Congress indicate, he wasn’t talking to anyone. It’s a matter of record that Trump had multiple other phone conversations during that mysterious gap, including one in which he brushed off House Minority Kevin McCarthy’s frantic demand that he call off the rioters.

The Jan. 6 commission ultimately must determine whether to recommend that the Justice Department criminally investigate a former president for actions he took while in office. That’s something no former president has ever faced — not because they were all choirboys but because, no matter how justified, one administration going after its predecessor would inevitably create a precedent that partisans of the future may feel empowered to abuse.

That’s a legitimate concern. But it’s not more legitimate than the principle that no one, not even a president, is above the law. At some point, evidence of clear criminality cries out for a response. If that point hasn’t yet been reached in the current case, it’s certainly getting close.

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