- Donald Trump canceled a press conference set for the first anniversary of the Capitol attack.
- Legal experts said Trump's remarks would have run the risk of digging him a deeper legal hole.
- Trump will now speak about January 6 and the 2020 election at a rally in Arizona on January 15.
Donald Trump has spent his post-presidency embroiled in lawsuits and investigations, a swirl of legal scrutiny that would keep a more careful person quiet.
But on the first anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, Trump wanted to do just the opposite and hold a press conference — until he didn't.
Trump late Tuesday abruptly canceled the planned event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, blaming "the total bias and dishonesty of the January 6th Unselect Committee of Democrats, two failed Republicans, and the Fake News Media."
He did not indicate whether his lawyers advised him against the event. Still, legal experts told Insider that the twice-impeached former president would have run the risk of talking himself into deeper trouble.
"It is a really boneheaded move because we know he does not pull any punches. He is very reckless when he speaks in front of an audience," said Rizwan Qureshi, a former prosecutor in the US attorney's office in Washington, DC, which is handling the hundreds of criminal cases stemming from the Capitol riot.
Trump now plans to share his views about January 6 and the 2020 election during a rally on January 15 in Arizona. But the cancellation of the January 6 press conference means that Trump will not deliver public remarks just days before a crucial court hearing in cases alleging that he encouraged his supporters to storm the Capitol.
Any remarks at the press conference would almost surely have complicated the hearing, scheduled for January 10 in Washington, DC, federal court, where a judge is set to hear Trump's arguments for dismissing lawsuits filed by Democratic lawmakers and Capitol police.
Trump's lawyers have argued that his comments at the Save America rally nearly a year ago — in which he said, "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore" — are protected by the "absolute immunity" afforded to presidents and by the First Amendment.
Lawyers for House Democrats have countered that "the carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded at the Save America rally and the storming of the Capitol was no accident or coincidence" but rather the foreseeable result of a campaign to interfere with the certification of now-President Joe Biden's electoral victory. Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, is set to hear arguments on Trump's motions to dismiss the lawsuits.
An 'ill-advised' and legally dangerous move
The plans for a Mar-a-Lago press conference had been panned as politically ill-conceived, with one former advisor pointing to it as evidence he is getting "terrible advice" from his inner circle.
Hill Republicans were also bracing for the remarks. In his December 21 statement initially announcing the Mar-a-Lago press conference, Trump denounced the House committee investigating the Capitol attack and indicated he planned to continue to deny the outcome of the 2020 election.
"Hopefully his comments will be helpful, not harmful," Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, told reporters at the Capitol earlier in the day on Tuesday.
In addition to being in bad taste politically, legal experts said the press conference and Trump's penchant for off-the-cuff remarks create the risk that the former president would have dug himself a deeper legal hole as he faces criminal and congressional investigations.
Qureshi, now a partner at the law firm Reed Smith, said any of Trump's remarks could be used against him and potentially shed further light on the roles of advisors and associates already facing scrutiny over their conduct on January 6 and in the buildup to the Capitol attack.
"He needs to be careful because he could incriminate himself or at least give prosecutors and law enforcement the opportunity to make derivative use of his statements to further explore the roles others close to him may have played," Qureshi added.
"From a political standpoint, it is ill-advised. But secondarily, it is just going to be an additional source of scrutiny into his conduct on that day."
Trump's office did not immediately respond to questions about why he canceled the event or whether he planned to take questions from the press.
'No upside' legally to holding public events
The House committee has moved aggressively in its investigation into the January 6 attack, motivated in part by the expectation that Republicans would shut down the inquiry if they regain the majority in this year's midterm elections. The panel hired a pair of former US attorneys as lead investigators and, in the past several months, obtained thousands of records and questioned multiple former administration officials and other close Trump associates.
In recent weeks, the panel has grown increasingly vocal about Trump's potential criminal culpability stemming from January 6. As the committee took steps in December to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming appeared to make a direct reference to a criminal statute that has been used to prosecute hundreds of accused participants in the January 6 attack: "corruptly obstructing an official proceeding."
"Mr. Meadows' testimony will bear on a key question in front of this committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress's official proceeding to count electoral votes?" said Cheney, the top-ranking Republican on the committee.
The Justice Department has charged more than 700 accused members of the pro-Trump mob that overtook the Capitol on January 6. In November, prosecutors brought contempt of Congress charges against the Trump ally Steve Bannon over his defiance of the House January 6 committee, but critics of the Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland have voiced frustration with the lack of visible steps to investigate Trump while local prosecutors in New York and Atlanta have undertaken inquiries into the former president and his business.
"He's under investigation in several different places. Any defense lawyer with a client in that situation would discourage him from making any kind of public statements. There's no upside, and all you can do is potentially make things worse for yourself by something you say," said Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and former public corruption prosecutor. "But Trump seems to be incapable of following that kind of advice, even if he gets it."
Meanwhile, Trump has defended himself against civil lawsuits accusing him of inciting the violence that caused about $1.5 million in damage to the Capitol building, left more than 100 officers injured, and resulted in the deaths of five people. The latest of those lawsuits came Tuesday from Marcus Moore, a 10-year veteran of the Capitol police force, who sued Trump under the more than 150-year-old Ku Klux Klan Act.