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What led the DOJ to take a fresh look at Trump’s alleged crimes

On “Meet the Press” over the weekend, NBC News’ Chuck Todd asked whether the United States can “handle” the prosecution of a former president. It was a provocative question — the host is hardly the only one asking it — although it’s unfortunate that we even have to wonder whether our country is capable of withstanding such a development.

After all, Italy prosecuted a former prime minister without incident. France, South Africa, and South Korea have all prosecuted former presidents without incident. If those democracies were strong and stable enough to have former leaders charged in the wake of criminal misconduct, shouldn’t we be able to do the same? Why should radicals exercise veto power over the rule of law?

The question may not remain hypothetical.

After Cassidy Hutchinson’s recent public testimony before the Jan. 6 committee, plenty of observers wondered whether federal prosecutors were watching, listening, and taking stock of Donald Trump’s alleged crimes. Even The New York Times reported, they were.

The electrifying public testimony delivered last month to the House Jan. 6 panels by Ms. Hutchinson … jolted top Justice Department officials into discussing the topic of Mr. Trump more directly, at times in the presence of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. In conversations at the department the day after Ms. Hutchinson’s appearance, some of which included Ms. Monaco, officials talked about the pressure that the testimony created to scrutinize Mr. Trump’s potential criminal culpability and whether he intended to break the law.

The Times’ report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, added that some of the information shared by Hutchinson in her sworn testimony was “largely new” to Justice Department officials and “grabbed their attention.”

The Times went on to note that Hutchinson’s disclosures seemed to open “a path to broaching the most sensitive topic of all: Mr. Trump’s own actions ahead of the attack.”

For the former president’s critics, that’s probably encouraging. Indeed, an ABC News/Ipsos poll from a few weeks ago found that nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe Trump should be criminally charged for his role in the Jan. 6 attacks.

By all appearances, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of the Republicans on the Jan. 6 committee, would be among the majority. When ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked the congressman last month whether he’s reached the conclusion that Trump should be prosecuted, the Illinois Republican said, “I think what we’re presenting before the American people would certainly rise to a level of criminal involvement by a president.”

Those comments came on the heels of a federal judge who released a ruling in a civil case that concluded Trump “likely attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress” on Jan. 6, which would be a crime.

Judge David Carter added, “The illegality of the plan was obvious…. Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”

A Washington Post report added soon after, “[Carter’s] ruling does not mean Trump will be charged with a crime, or even investigated. But the opinion will increase pressure on the Justice Department to intensify its probe of the Jan. 6 riot, and potentially examine the conduct of Trump himself.”

By all appearances, the collective pressure has not gone unnoticed at the Main Justice.

The House Jan. 6 committee is holding its latest public hearing on Tuesday, July 12 at 1 pm ET. Get expert analysis in real-time on our liveblog at msnbc.com/jan6hearings.

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