Donald Trump on Tuesday ramped up his attack on the federal prosecutor whose charges against him could put him behind bars, this time including in his tirade special counsel Jack Smith’s family, as well ― potentially increasing his exposure to federal prison.
“COULD SOMEBODY PLEASE EXPLAIN TO THE DERANGED, TRUMP HATING JACK SMITH, HIS FAMILY, AND HIS FRIENDS, THAT AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, I COME UNDER THE PRESIDENTIAL RECORDS ACT, AS AFFIRMED BY THE CLINTON SOCKS CASE, NOT BY THIS PSYCHOS’ FANTASY OF THE NEVER USED BEFORE ESPIONAGE ACT OF 1917,” Trump wrote on his personal social media site early Tuesday in the all-capitals style he favors when he is particularly agitated.
“Smells of desperation,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University history professor and an expert on authoritarianism. “Once again, Trump is acting like a Mafia boss and also stringing as many propaganda slogans together as possible.”
Trump’s call echoes the one attributed to England’s King Henry II centuries ago when he asked: “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest,” which led to the murder of the archbishop of Canterbury ― although it is unclear whether Trump is aware of the historical reference.
“Trump is encouraging his followers, who we know have included the violent insurrectionists responsible for Jan. 6, to target the family and friends of Jack Smith,” said Norm Eisen, a lawyer who served in Barack Obama’s White House. “It is profoundly concerning.”
Threatening federal law enforcement officers doing their jobs is a crime punishable by years in prison, although it is unclear whether Trump’s pattern of attacks, which go back now nearly a year and a half, could be successfully prosecuted.
A Supreme Court decision released Tuesday requires prosecutors to prove that a person making a statement knows that doing so would be considered a threat, not merely that a reasonable person would consider it a threat.
Neither the Department of Justice nor Trump’s campaign staff responded to HuffPost queries about his new statement, and it is not known whether Smith or his prosecution team plans to ask U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to warn Trump about his comments.
Eisen, though, said Smith should not have to ask. “The prosecution shouldn’t have to raise it. The defendant shouldn’t do it, and the judge shouldn’t tolerate it…. If I were the judge, I would call him in right now and read him and his lawyers the riot act,” he said. “Any other defendant might well be called on the carpet for this posting alone.”
He added that he did not believe that Trump’s Tuesday posting, by itself, constituted a prosecutable threat but that it should serve as a warning to Cannon and the country, based on Trump’s past behavior.
“This is, after all, a social media posting by someone whose tweet to be in Washington Jan. 6 because, quote, ‘will be wild,’ precipitated a violent riot, and someone whose tweet at 2:24 p.m. on that day, after violence had already erupted, nearly got Vice President Mike Pence killed,” Eisen said.
Though Trump had the right to call for protests against his prosecution, Eisen said, he did not have the right to endanger the lives of individuals. “Targeting friends and family of a prosecutor…. It is totally different to personalize it in that way,” Eisen said.
Smith is leading the team prosecuting Trump for his retention of top-secret documents at his Florida country club and then his attempts to keep them from authorities seeking their return. Smith is also investigating Trump for his coup attempt that culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his followers.
Trump began inciting his supporters against prosecutors at a January 2022 rally in Texas. “If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere, because our country and our elections are corrupt,” he said.
Ahead of his arraignment on the secret documents charges, Trump told his millions of followers on his social media site: “SEE YOU IN MIAMI ON TUESDAY!!!” ― reminiscent of his Dec. 19, 2020, Twitter post urging his followers to come to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021: “Be there, will be wild!”
And three days before that Miami arraignment, Trump hinted at violence in a speech to North Carolina Republican activists. “Our people are angry,” he said. “And sometimes you need strength. You have to have strength, more than just normal strength. And we have to get a change because we’re not going to have a country left.”
Trump is also facing an investigation by Georgia prosecutors for his attempt to overturn his election loss in that state, with a potential indictment expected in August. And he has already been indicted in New York City in a case centered on falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to a porn star in the days leading up to the 2016 election.
He is, notwithstanding the accumulating criminal charges, running for the White House again and currently holds substantial leads over the rest of the 2024 GOP field.