Justice Department laid out the case against Trump in a 40-page indictment
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Let's bring in Ankush Khardori. He's a former federal prosecutor in the Justice Department and a contributing writer for Politico.
Ankush, thanks for joining us.
ANKUSH KHARDORI: Thanks for having me.
FADEL: So how strong is this case against Trump?
KHARDORI: Well, I think it's important to remember that an indictment is just a set of allegations, and the government has to establish these allegations at trial. But within the four corners of this indictment, I think what we see is a very exhaustive investigation - one that's gathered a variety of different types of evidence and fairly potent types of evidence, including audio recordings, material from Trump's own lawyer, the photos from Mar-a-Lago, to say nothing of the documents themselves. And, you know, I think that this indictment, just on its face, is a very impressive document - one that I think many Americans, if they can find the time, should try to read because it is, I think, a document that is intended for consumption by the American public.
FADEL: Now, you and I have read this indictment. It's more than 40 pages. What stood out to you when you were looking through it?
KHARDORI: The crystal-clear nature of the narrative. These documents are very hard to draft in a way that are sort of intelligible. And I thought that the prosecutors did a very good job of laying out the narrative in a way that made clear the intentionality of Trump's alleged misconduct and the scope of the alleged obstruction and then again, too, the sort of variety of types of evidence including material that'll be very hard for Trump to run away from if it's admitted at trial, including, for instance, the audio recording of him showing a document to someone in his office and the material from his own lawyer, Evan Corcoran.
FADEL: Now, if he were to be found guilty of these charges, what kind of sentence might he receive?
KHARDORI: That is a very, very open question, right? So the most serious charge carries a 20-year statutory maximum. Now, that's not a very helpful way of thinking about these things. I think, you know, comparable cases involving other government officials that have gone to trial and resulted in guilty verdicts have ended up with real terms of imprisonment in the, you know, single- or mid-single-digit years of imprisonment. But, of course, Trump is a unique defendant.
KHARDORI: He's a first-time offender. He was a former president. There are very complex legal and factual issues that I expect to be aired out during the course of this trial. And ultimately, the sentence that a judge issues is very much up to their very wide discretion.
FADEL: As you point out, this is pretty historic, unprecedented - former president, running for president. What happens if he's convicted and then reelected? Does he go to prison or the Oval Office?
KHARDORI: I think that the odds that Trump is imprisoned as long as he's a active presidential candidate are very, very low. The reason is, on the front end of this, there's going to be quite a path between here, where we are now, to a potential trial. It's going to be very hard to even schedule a trial when you factor in the political calendar next year and concerns about interfering with the political process.
But even if a trial and a conviction resulted during the campaign season, here, too, the judge has a lot of discretion to allow post-trial briefing. Months can go by before sentencing is even completed, and then she can leave, or - it's currently a she, the judge presiding - she can allow Trump to remain out on bail even while his case is pending on appeal. So there's no mandatory term of imprisonment on any of the charges, and she would be under no obligation to send him immediately to prison upon a conviction.
FADEL: So is that why - I mean, you've written in Politico that Trump's own reelection effort might be his best defense. Is that why?
KHARDORI: Yeah. It is. I mean, this is a complex case - serious charges, of course. And in the ordinary circumstance, you would expect a very, very convoluted litigation to occur here, both pre- and post-trial. But for Trump, his easiest way out of this is to get reelected, pardon himself or direct his attorney general to shut down the case, and call it a day.
FADEL: How does this case compare to Trump's indictment in New York in the scheme to arrange hush-money payments for the adult film actress Stormy Daniels?
KHARDORI: Well, it's clearly more serious, right? I think those of us who are sort of close watchers of the New York courts, I think, assume that even if Trump were convicted in that case, it's very, very unlikely that he would actually be sentenced to any term of imprisonment.
But in addition, you know, I think that this federal indictment is much more accessible to lawyers and to the public. We understand the conduct. We understand why it would be criminalized. The way that the government has used the statutes is not - they haven't been deployed in an unusual or novel way. And kind of all of those things surround the Manhattan case and has, I think, contributed to the somewhat ambivalent public reception around that document. This one is quite different to me.
FADEL: You know, one of the things we're hearing from Trump and others who are defending him is that, well, what about Hillary's emails, and what about the classified documents that Biden had? Does this indictment - does this case compare at all? Is there a comparison to be made? Is that fair?
KHARDORI: I really - yeah, I really - I don't think so at all. I mean, the scope of what was taken, the intentionality - alleged intentionality - behind it, and there is nothing comparable in either of those other fact patterns to the alleged obstruction on the part of Trump and his integral involvement in that alleged obstruction. So I don't have much patience for the comparisons, to be honest. I think they're just politically motivated talking points.
FADEL: Ankush Khardori is a former federal prosecutor and a contributing writer for Politico.
Thanks for your time.
KHARDORI: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.