It was unclear what the Washington Post meant when it reported on Thursday that the DOJ was asking a judge to hold the “Trump team” or “Trump’s office” in contempt of court. That presumably referred to Trump’s lawyers, but did it mean just his lawyers? What about Trump?
Now CNN is now clarifying that this includes Donald Trump himself and not just his lawyers. The DOJ really is asking the courts to hold Trump in contempt of court, for his failure to properly respond to its subpoena seeking information about the classified documents he stole.
So presuming the judge goes along with it, we’re now looking at Trump and his attorneys being held in contempt of court. This kind of thing tends to be quick and painful, because judges can apply any escalating penalties they want, on any timetable they want, in the name of forcing people to comply. Trump can use the Fifth Amendment to avoid having to testify against himself, but he cannot use the Fifth Amendment to avoid turning over documents and such – which is what the DOJ is squeezing him on.
Of course Trump is about to face a no-win situation where he can either provide evidence of his own guilt and help get himself indicted, or lie to the DOJ in way that’ll help get him indicted, or refuse to comply and nailed for contempt of court on his way to getting indicted.
We’ll see which bad option Trump picks. Perhaps more importantly in the short term, we’re about to see which option each member of his legal team picks. Unlike Trump, his lawyers have the option of getting extreme leniency (or even immunity) in exchange for flipping on Trump. Are they really willing to go to prison for him? At this point they have to know he’s going to prison anyway.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report