Posts tagged with "Special Counsel Jack smith"

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to end delays of Trump’s January 6 trial

February 15, 2024

On Wednesday, February 14, federal prosecutors urged the Supreme Court not to delay Donald Trump’s trial for his coup attempt any further—calling a quick resolution of those criminal charges a matter of utmost importance for the country, reports The Huffington Post.

“The charged crimes strike at the heart of our democracy,” Special Counsel Jack Smith wrote in a 39-page brief filed with the court Wednesday evening. He called Trump’s actions an “effort to perpetuate himself in power and prevent the lawful winner of the 2020 presidential election from taking office.

“The national interest in resolving those charges without further delay is compelling,” he wrote.

The former president on Monday asked the high court to freeze that prosecution through two more rounds of appeals—a request that, if granted, could put Trump in a position of ordering the Department of Justice to dismiss all federal cases against him, should he win back the presidency this autumn.

Trump is arguing to the Supreme Court that his riling up his followers with lies about a “stolen” election that culminated in the violent assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, to keep him in power was, in fact, an “official” act of the presidency for which he cannot be prosecuted. He also claims he cannot be prosecuted for his actions because the Senate failed to hit the two-thirds supermajority needed to convict him on that impeachment. What’s more, he argues that the Founders always intended for presidents to enjoy total immunity.

All those arguments were previously rejected by both trial Judge Tanya Chutkan as well as the three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That appellate court ruled that the case would return to Chutkan for trial unless the Supreme Court granted him a delay while it considers Trump’s request.

Smith wrote in his new filing that Trump had no grounds to seek another delay at this point. “He has no entitlement to a further stay while seeking discretionary review from this court,” Smith said. “Delay in the resolution of these charges threatens to frustrate the public interest in a speedy and fair verdict―a compelling interest in every criminal case and one that has unique national importance here; as it involves federal criminal charges against a former president for alleged criminal efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election, including through the use of official power.

Further, Trump had not shown any historical or legal basis for his claim that he is immune from prosecution. “A president’s alleged criminal scheme to overturn an election and thwart the peaceful transfer of power to his successor should be the last place to recognize a novel form of absolute immunity from federal criminal law.”

Trump’s lawyers have gone beyond merely asking the Supreme Court to review the case and are demanding that Trump first be allowed to appeal to the full appellate court before coming to the high court—all while the January 6 case remains on hold.

But Smith asked the court to treat Trump’s request for a delay as a request for the court to review the three-judge panel’s ruling—thereby eliminating one of the steps Trump was asking for. Smith also asked the justices to decline taking the case at all, given the appellate court’s detailed ruling; but that if did take it, to do so on an expedited basis that would produce a ruling by the end of the court’s term this summer.

“The public interest weighs heavily in favor of this court’s issuance of its decision without delay,” Smith wrote.

The January. 6 case is one of two federal prosecutions Trump could end if he becomes president again. The other is based on his refusal to turn over secret documents he took with him to his South Florida country club upon leaving the White House.

Trump also faces a Georgia state prosecution for his attempt to overturn his election loss there and a New York state indictment accusing him of falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to a porn star in the days before the 2016 election.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Appeals court judges are skeptical of Trump’s immunity appeal in election interference case

January 10, 2024

On Tuesday, January 9, federal appeals court judges questioned former President Donald Trump’s broad claim of immunity from prosecution for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which resulted in a chain of events that culminated in the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, reports NBC News.

The all-woman three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said nothing to suggest they would embrace Trump’s immunity argument, although they raised several options on how they could rule.

The court could issue a ruling that decisively resolves the immunity question, allowing the trial to move quickly forward, or alight on a more narrow ruling that could leave some issues unresolved. They also could simply rule that Trump had no right to bring an appeal at this stage of the litigation.

Trump arrived at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., a few minutes before oral arguments began at 9:30 a.m. and sat at his lawyers’ table. He was mostly muted during his lawyers’ presentation, but grew flustered at points when the prosecution’s lawyer was speaking. He could be seen passing notes to his lawyers on a yellow legal pad.

Special Counsel Jack Smith also was present at the hearing, which lasted for a little over an hour.

The case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces as he fights on multiple legal fronts while remaining the presumptive front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

With Trump running for office again, whether the Washington trial originally scheduled for March can take place ahead of the election continues to hang in the balance. Smith has asked the court to move quickly—a bid to keep the trial on schedule.

The appeals court is hearing the case on an expedited schedule, so a ruling could come quickly, possibly in time to allow Trump’s trial to begin as scheduled.

Judge Florence Pan immediately peppered Trump’s lawyer with hypothetical situations in which, under Trump’s theory, presidents could not be prosecuted.

Could a president, she asked, be prosecuted for selling pardons or military secrets, or by ordering the assassination of a political opponent?

“I understand your position to be that a president is immune from criminal prosecution for any official act that he takes as president even if that action is taken for an unlawful or unconstitutional purpose, is that correct?” Pan said.

Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer responded that such a prosecution can only take place if the president is impeached and convicted by the Senate first.

The position taken by prosecutors “would authorize for example, the indictment of President Biden in the Western District of Texas after he leaves office for mismanaging the border allegedly,” Sauer added.

Judge Karen Henderson cited another part of the Constitution—a provision that outlines that the president has a duty to ensure that laws are faithfully executed.

“I think it’s paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed allows him to violate criminal law,” she said.

Later in the argument, Henderson expressed concern that a ruling saying the president does not have immunity would lead to politically-driven prosecutions of future presidents.

“How do we write an opinion that would stop the flood gates?’ she said.

The Justice Department has previously acknowledged that “criminal liability would be unavoidably political,” she added.

The Trump investigation “doesn’t reflect that we are going to see a sea change of vindictive tit for tat prosecutions in the future,” said James Pearce, the lawyer arguing on behalf of Smith.

“Never before have there been allegations that a sitting president has with private individuals and using the levers of power sought to fundamentally subvert the Democratic Republic and the electoral system,” he added.

Trump on Monday suggested that if the court does not rule in his favor and he wins the presidential election, he would have President Joe Biden indicted.

Whatever happens, the losing party is likely to immediately appeal to the Supreme Court. The justices would then face a decision on whether to take up the case and issue their own ruling, potentially also on a fast-tracked basis.

Trump’s appeal arises from the four-count indictment in Washington including charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan in December denied Trump’s attempt to dismiss the indictment on presidential immunity and other constitutional grounds. The case is on hold while the appeals process plays out.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Jack Smith asks Supreme Court to weigh Trump’s immunity argument

December 12, 2023

The Supreme Court said on Monday, December 11, that it would consider Special Counsel Jack Smith‘s request to rule quickly on whether presidential immunity protects former President Trump from prosecution in the federal 2020 election interference case, reports Axios.

It would be the first time that the high court would have weighed in on part of the legal proceedings involving the former president. Trump’s lawyers argue that he has presidential immunity from the charges.

“This case presents a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: whether a former President is absolutely immune from federal prosecution for crimes committed while in office,” Smith wrote in the Monday filing.

Smith added that it “is of imperative public importance” for the Court to rule on Trump’s claims of immunity “and that respondent’s trial proceed as promptly as possible, if his claim of immunity is rejected.”

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to expedite consideration of Smith’s request to consider whether Trump is immune, and gave Trump’s legal team until December 20 to file a response.

Trump’s legal team last week requested a stay on all court proceedings in the 2020 election case, which is currently scheduled to go to trial on March 4.

The former president’s request for a stay came after U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the case, rejected Trump’s arguments that he has immunity from the indictment.

A Trump spokesperson accused Smith in a statement of trying for “a Hail Mary by racing to the Supreme Court and attempting to bypass the appellate process.”

The spokesperson added, “As President Trump has said over and over again, this prosecution is completely politically motivated … President Trump will continue to fight for Justice and oppose these authoritarian tactics.”

Prosecutors in their filing cite the 1974 U.S. v. Nixon case, when the Supreme Court ruled that former President Richard Nixon was required to turn over tape recordings during the Watergate scandal, and that he was not protected by “executive privilege.”

The special counsel, in a rare move, is seeking to bypass the federal appeals court and urge the high court to rule quickly on Trump’s claims.

“Respondent’s appeal of the ruling rejecting his immunity and related claims, however, suspends the trial of the charges against him, scheduled to begin on March 4, 2024,” per the filing.

Research contact: @axios

Georgia prosecutors won’t consider plea deals for Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, or Donald Trump

November 30, 2023

 

Georgia prosecutors in former President Donald Trump’s election interference racketeering case reportedly say they will not consider plea deals for co-defendants Mark Meadows or Rudy Giuliani—or for Trump himself, reports New York’s Daily News.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has decided to proceed to try Trump and his two top lieutenants as the alleged ringleaders of his plot to steal the 2020 election in the Peach State and elsewhere, The Guardian reported on Tuesday, November 28.

Willis has named Trump the leader of the multipronged conspiracy to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden.

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows may have hoped to wriggle off the hook in the Georgia case, but has so far unsuccessfully sought to have his case moved to federal court. He offered some cooperation to Special Counsel Jack Smith in exchange for testimony to the federal grand jury investigating the election interference case, but has apparently not made any formal cooperation deal.

Giuliani faces a plethora of legal woes in Georgia and elsewhere—including a slam-dunk defeat in a defamation case filed by Atlanta election workers whom he falsely accused of rigging votes for President Biden. The judgment could bankrupt him.

The ex-mayor also is named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal election interference case led by Smith. He submitted to questioning by Smith’s team in what legal analysts called an effort to win a deal to avoid prosecution, but there is no sign that he was successful.

Aside from signaling danger to Meadows and Giuliani, the reported decision by Willis could serve as a flashing invitation to the other dozen or so remaining co-defendants to step up talks for plea agreements in the sprawling case.

The most prominent name that was left off of Willis’ must-face-trial list is

pro-Trump law professor John Eastman.The right-wing law professor is considered the architect of Trump’s alleged scheme to convince Republican lawmakers in Georgia and other battleground states to create bogus slates of pro-Trump electors to muddy the waters of Biden’s victory.

That is one of several intertwined plots laid out in the RICO indictment, along with an effort to bully officials into investigating bogus claims of widespread voter fraud and a bizarre plan to hack into voting machines in a rural pro-Trump Georgia county.

So far, three other Trump lawyers have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Trump and the others, along with a Trump campaign activist who allegedly aided the Coffee County voting machine effort.

That leaves 14 co-defendants still facing the prospect of going on trial alongside Trump. Several of them are relatively low-level participants in the plot; or fake electors who legal analysts say should have a strong incentive to plead guilty and put the case behind them.

Georgia’s RICO law carries sentences of up to 20 years in prison and would not be subject to pardons. The statute is considered a particularly powerful weapon for prosecutors, and Willis has proven her effectiveness at using it to jail crooked mobsters, drug dealers and even cheating teachers.

Willis has asked Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee to set an August 5 date for the trial, which is expected to last several months. lf that schedule holds, Trump would face the daunting prospect of being on trial in an Atlanta courtroom during the last months of the 2024 presidential campaign.

Trump faces a March 4 trial in Washington, D.C., in the federal election interference case presided over by District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan.

Research contact: @NYDailyNews

 

Trump told nuclear sub secrets to Australian billionaire—who went on to tell 45 others

October 9, 2023

Former President Donald Trump reportedly shared details about America’s nuclear submarine program with an Australian billionaire, who then went on to tell journalists, foreign officials, and others about the sensitive information, HuffPost reports.

ABC News first reported that Special Counsel Jack Smith had learned about Trump’s disclosure to the billionaire—a cardboard magnate named Anthony Pratt —as part of his investigation into the former president’s handling of classified documents. Trump allegedly told Pratt several government secrets about the submarines during an event at his Mar-a-Lago Club and residence in Palm Beach, Florida, where the billionaire is a member.

Pratt reportedly told prosecutors and FBI agents that Trump brought up the submarine fleet in April 2021, after he had left the White House. The former president then revealed the supposed number of nuclear warheads that are on board U.S. submarines at any time and how close the vessels can get to a Russian submarine without detection.

The billionaire, ABC News added, shared that information with at least 45 people, including three former Australian prime ministers, a half dozen journalists and other foreign officials. Australia recently inked a deal with the United States to spend up to $245 billion over the next three decades to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

It’s unclear if the details were accurate, or if they were bluster or exaggerations, but ABC News reported that Pratt was informed by investigators not to share the numbers he was reportedly given.

The New York Times, which confirmed the report with people familiar with the matter, said the details would be highly protected information and could endanger the U.S. nuclear fleet if made public.

A former Australian ambassador to the United States told the paper the information wasn’t new to his country, saying: “If that’s all that was discussed, we already know all that.

“We have had Australians serving with Americans on U.S. submarines for years, and we share the same technology and the same weapons as the U.S. Navy,” the former ambassador, Joe Hockey, said.

The reported information was not included in Smith’s federal indictment of Trump earlier this year related to his handling of classified documents after he left the White House. Trump was charged with 40 counts related to willful retention of documents and obstruction of justice. But it could be used as part of the ultimate case against him to bolster any pattern of Trump’s handling of sensitive material.

A Trump spokesperson told ABC that the former president did “nothing wrong,” adding the report lacked “proper context and relevant information.”

“President Trump did nothing wrong, has always insisted on truth and transparency, and acted in a proper manner, according to the law,” the spokesperson told ABC News.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Poll: Majority of Americans want Trump trial to be scheduled before 2024 election

August 30, 2023

An overwhelming majority of Americans—including, crucially, nearly two-thirds of Independents—want former President Donald Trump to stand trial in the Justice Department’s 2020 election case before the 2024 election, reports Vanity Fair.

A Politico Magazine/Ipsos poll surveyed 1,032 Democratic, Republican, and Independent adults between August 18 and August 21—a period slightly less than three weeks after Special Counsel Jack Smith indicted the former president in a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

The poll, released on Friday, August 25, was conducted just days after Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis indicted Trump and 18 others for their election meddling in Georgia.

The results show a marked uptick in seeing Trump stand trial before the 2024 election—demonstrating the severity and magnitude of the latest charges and complicating the former president’s insistent claims that criminal indictments only boost his political prospects. In June, a Politico/Ipsos poll asked a similar scheduling question after Trump’s classified documents indictment in Florida, and fewer than half of independents said they wanted to see a trial before the election.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan held a scheduling hearing on the federal case. Smith’s office requested a January 2, 2024 trial date, while Trump’s lawyers are asked that the trial the scheduled in 2026. Stating that she disagreed with both dates, Chutkan instead scheduled the trial to begin on March 4, 2024.

The poll also provides a window into how Trump’s response to his various indictments may—or may not—be landing with voters. Despite the former president’s cries of “corruption” in the cases against him, more poll respondents said they believed Trump had weaponized the legal system than President Biden.

More than half of respondents—including 56% of independents—said the Trump DOJ had improperly investigated political opponents. Asked about the behavior of various players in the criminal cases, respondents gave Trump the worst favorability rating of all: net negative by 31 points.

The DOJ and Smith came out with net favorable ratings, while Attorney General Merrick Garland notched an even split.

Additionally, the poll also shows a marked lack of public knowledge about the case, with between roughly one-quarter and one-third of the respondents reporting that they do not understand the charges very well. As the cases unfold and new information becomes public, Trump’s numbers might considerably worsen.

As for what voters would like the outcome of the cases to be, half of the poll’s respondents said they thought Trump should go to prison if convicted in the DOJ’s January 6 case. That number included 51% of Independents.

Research contact: @VanityFair

Mark Meadows says Trump left top secret Iran war plans on couch at Bedminster golf resort

August 22, 2023

Ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wrote in a draft of his memoir that his old boss, former President Donald Trump, left a top-secret Iran war plan on a couch at his New Jersey golf resort during an interview with a ghost writer, reports the New York Daily News.

Indeed, Meadows told prosecutors from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team that he heard about the shocking incident by the writer and a publicist; but soft-pedaled it in the final published version of his book because it could be “problematic” for Trump, ABC News reported.

“On th couch in front of [Trump’s)] desk, there’s a four-page report typed up by (Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley) himself,” the draft read, according to ABC. “It shows the general’s own plan to attack Iran, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency.”

Trump has been charged with improperly showing the document to the underlings as part of a superseding indictment to the classified documents case.

He was already charged with mishandling dozens of documents that he took with him when he left the White House and defying official efforts to get them back.

Trump allegedly brought the Iran war plan to New Jersey and whipped it out to show the underlings during an interview in summer 2021 as Meadows collected material for his book, “The Chief’s Chief.”

Considering it important ammunition in his odd feud with Milley, Trump was already accused of boasting to the aides that the document proved his point that Milley was a warmonger.

In so doing, Trump admitted that the document remained classified and that he shouldn’t be showing it—effectively contradicting his own oft-repeated claims he had declassified all the documents.

“It is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information,” Trump said, according to an audiotape of the meeting. “Look, look at this. This was done by the military and given to me. As president I could have declassified, but now I can’t.”

The new bombshell suggests Trump was even more reckless than previously known with the secret plan, which would be of immeasurable value to geopolitical enemies or the United States; as well as Iran-hating allies like Israel and particularly Saudi Arabia.

Meadows told prosecutors that Trump never told him he had declassified large numbers of secret documents—contradicting his former boss’ claims about the documents. He also shot down the outlandish claim that Trump had a so-called “standing order” to declassify any documents he took away from the White House.

The report did not clear up uncertainty about Meadows’s role in the various prosecutions of Trump.

Research contact: @NYDailyNews

Fani Willis’s grand-slam indictment against Donald Trump

August 16, 2023

Like a clean-up hitter in baseball, Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis has hit a grand slam home run with her indictment of former President Donald Trump, reports The Hill.

It is by far the most comprehensive of the four criminal indictments now pending against the former president—in terms of the kinds of crimes it alleges, the places in which they occurred, and the number of people charged.

Georgia, which was ground zero for Trump’s lies about the election outcome and his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, now looks like it also will be ground zero for those seeking to hold the former president accountable.

The indictment filed by Willis draws on various state laws to name what Trump did in the wake of the 2020 election and rightly calls the Trump campaign a criminal enterprise for the coordinated efforts it made to overturn the election results.

While Special Counsel Jack Smith’s August 1 indictment seemed narrowly focused and tailored to avoid any unnecessary legal complexity, Willis appears to have chosen a different path.

The Georgia indictment lays out, in soup-to-nuts fashion, many crimes. Some are already well-know and, if proven, are quite serious. Others, although also serious, have received much less publicity.

The indictment does a service to American democracy by providing the broadest possible framework to describe the crimes that Trump and others allegedly committed in Georgia and elsewhere.

As the indictment states in its succinct introduction: “Defendant Donald John Trump lost the United States presidential election held on November 3, 2020. One of the states he lost was Georgia. Trump and the other Defendants charged in this Indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump.”

“That conspiracy,” the indictment continues, “contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and in other states … including, but not limited to, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and in the District of Columbia.”

The charges contained in the 41-count indictment involve Trump and 18 others, a rogues’ gallery of collaborators in the ex-president’s alleged criminal enterprise, including Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Mark Meadows, Sidney Powell, and Jeffrey Clark. The named defendants are liable to severe criminal penalties, with the very real prospect that some, or all of them, will end up joining the 47,000 people already serving time in Georgia prisons.

At the heart of Willis’s grand slam indictment is the charge that Trump’s conduct violated Georgia’s laws against racketeering, a type of organized crime typically involving fraud or extortion. This charge conjures images of the kinds of things done by Al Capone or Jimmy Hoffa—and now of the four-time indicted former president.

Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), enacted in 1980, was written more broadly than its federal counterpart. Under Georgia’s law, it is easier to prove a pattern of racketeering than it would be with a federal RICO charge. As The Guardian notes, “It requires prosecutors to show the existence of an ‘enterprise’—and a pattern of racketeering activity that is predicated on at least two ‘qualifying’ crimes.”

Among those crimes the indictment lists: making false statements concerning fraud in the November 3, 2020 election; corruptly soliciting Georgia officials, “including the Secretary of State and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to violate their oaths to the Georgia Constitution and to the United States Constitution by unlawfully changing the outcome of the November 3, 2020 presidential election”; and creating “false Electoral College documents and recruit[ing] individuals to convene and cast false Electoral College votes.”

The Georgia indictment also charges Trump and others with conspiracy to commit election fraud. Those efforts include what Trump calls his “perfect phone call” to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which the then-president asked him to find 11,780 votes and warned he might face criminal prosecution if he failed to do so.

Using the racketeering charge for Trump’s election tampering efforts, seems, at first glance, to be going into what Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis calls “deeply uncharted territory.” Applying it in this context, he says, “is very new. That is something that we haven’t seen in Georgia before, and it hasn’t really happened elsewhere before.”

And because of its complexity—trying a racketeering case with 19 defendants, each with their own lawyer and legal strategy—it will not be easy to pull off. But, given Willis’s track record, Trump should take this racketeering charge very seriously.

If it is televised, America will see defendant Trump sitting quietly with his lawyers while he is prosecuted by a Black woman in a city which Joe Biden carried overwhelmingly. This is hardly the visual which our reality-TV-star-turned-president generally prefers, although it may play into his overarching narrative of victimization in a demographically changing America.

In the end, the filing of Willis’s indictment means that Georgia will be, as lyrics in the well-known song by Ray Charles say, very much on Trump’s mind—as well as on the minds of Americans seeking a forum to examine the damage he has done to our democracy.

Research contact: @thehill

Pence could be the star witness in Trump’s January 6 trial

August 4, 2023

One of the many Shakespearean elements to the Trump prosecution is the role of former Vice President Mike Pence—who declined to testify before the House’s January 6 Committee and unsuccessfully fought a grand jury subpoena; but who plays a central role in this week’s indictment of his former boss, reports Axios.

Pence’s presidential campaign is struggling. But he’s likely to be in the spotlight for a whole other reason if Special Counsel Jack Smith’s case against former President Donald Trump goes to trial.

When a transcript of Pence’s grand-jury testimony was released last month, The New York Times reports, “it featured 18 consecutive pages that were blacked out, fueling intense speculation about what evidence he might have provided against his former boss.”

“The answer came on Tuesday, August 1, in the 45-page indictment from Smith, with Pence involved in some of the most vivid scenes.”

The indictment says that Trump (“the Defendant”) called Pence on New Year’s Day 2021, “and berated him because he had learned that the Vice President had opposed a lawsuit seeking a judicial decision that … the Vice President had the authority to reject or return votes to the states under the Constitution.”

“[T]he Defendant told the vice president, ‘You’re too honest.'”

Notes that Pence kept about his conversations with Trump in the days before the January 6 attack on the Capitol help inform Tuesday’s 45-page indictment, the AP reports.

“You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome,” Pence told Trump in one call, per the indictment.

Pence has stepped up his criticism of Trump since the latest indictment was unsealed, telling reporters on Wednesday that Trump and “his gaggle of crackpot lawyers” asked him to “literally reject votes” on January 6.

Research contact: @axios

Trump’s case has broad implications for American democracy

August 3, 2023

What makes the indictment against former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, August 1, so breathtaking is not that it is the first time a president has been charged with a crime or even the second. Trump already holds those records. But, as serious as hush money and classified documents may be, this third indictment in four months gets to the heart of the matter, the issue that will define the future of American democracy, reports The New York Times.

At the core of the United States of America v. Donald J. Trump case are the questions, Can a sitting president spread lies about an election and try to employ the authority of the government to overturn the will of the voters without consequence?

In effect, Jack Smith—the special counsel who brought the case—charged Trump with one of the most sensational frauds in the history of the United States, one “fueled by lies” and animated by the basest of motives, the thirst for power.

In a 45-page, four-count indictment, Smith dispensed with the notion that Trump believed his claims of election fraud. “The defendant knew that they were false,” it said; and made them anyway to “create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger and erode public faith in the administration of the election.”

The elements of the alleged conspiracy laid out in the indictment were, for the most part, well-known since the congressional inquiry into the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol wrapped up seven months ago—and many of them long before that. In that sense, the unsealing of the document had what the Times characterizes as “a bizarrely anti-climactic feel to it,” given the stakes.

But if long delayed, the indictment wove together all the intrigue between the November 3, 2020, election and the Jan. 20, 2021, inauguration into a damning tale of a president who pushed in seemingly every possible way to stop the handover of the White House to the challenger who beat him.

John Adams established the precedent of peacefully surrendering power after losing an election. Ever since, every defeated president accepted the verdict of the voters and stepped down. As Ronald Reagan once put it, what “we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

For all of the many, many allegations made against him on all sorts of subjects during his time on the public stage, everything else feels small by comparison. Unlike the indictment by New York State for allegedly covering up a payment to a porn actress and Smith’s previous indictment for allegedly jeopardizing national secrets after leaving the White House, the new charges are the first to deal with actions taken by a president while in office.

While he failed to keep his grip on power, Trump has undermined the credibility of elections in the United States by persuading three in ten Americans—about 30% of voters—that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from him, even though it was not and many of his own advisers and family members know it was not.

Bringing the case to court, of course, may not restore that public faith in the system. Millions of Trump’s supporters and many Republican leaders have embraced his narrative of victimization—dismissing the prosecution without waiting to read the indictment as merely part of a far-reaching, multi-jurisdictional and sometimes even bipartisan “witch hunt” against him.

Trump has been laying the ground for the eventual indictment for months, making clear to his backers that they should not trust anything prosecutors tell them. “Why didn’t they do this 2.5 years ago?” Trump wrote on his social media site on Tuesday afternoon. “Why did they wait so long? Because they wanted to put it right in the middle of my campaign. Prosecutorial Misconduct!”

A statement issued by his campaign went further, equating prosecutors with fascists and communists. “The lawlessness of these persecutions of President Trump and his supporters is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes,” it said. “President Trump has always followed the law and the Constitution, with advice from many highly accomplished attorneys.”

Name-calling is a political defense, not a legal one, but one that so far has succeeded in preserving his electoral standing in his comeback campaign for the White House. Despite prognostications to the contrary, the last two indictments succeeded only in enhancing his appeal among Republicans, the Times notes, in the contest for the party nomination to challenge President Joe Biden next year.

In a court of law, however, the challenge for Trump will be different, especially with a jury selected from residents of Washington, D.C., a predominantly Democratic city where he won just 5% of the vote in 2020. Trump’s strategy may be to try to delay a trial until after the 2024 election and hope that he wins so that he can short-circuit the prosecution or even try to pardon himself.

The most essential facts of the case, after all, are not in dispute, nor did he deny any of the assertions made in the indictment on Tuesday. Trump was astonishingly open at the time in declaring that he wanted to overturn the election. Since leaving office, he has even called for the “termination” of the Constitution to reinstall him in the White House immediately.

The question is whether the facts add up to crimes as alleged by a federal grand jury at Smith’s behest. Just as no president ever tried to reverse his defeat at the ballot box before, no prosecutor has brought charges for doing so, meaning there is no precedent for applying the statutes on the books to such a circumstance.

Trump’s defenders argue that he had good-faith reasons for contesting the election results in multiple states and that he did nothing more than pursue his legitimate, legal options—a view shared by 74% of Republicans in a new poll by The New York Times and Siena College. What Smith is doing, they maintain, is criminalizing a political dispute in what amounts to victor’s justice—Biden’s Administration punishing his vanquished foe.

But as the indictment methodically documented, Trump was told over and over again by his own advisers, allies and administration officials that the allegations he was making were not true; yet he publicly continued to make them, sometimes just hours later.

He was told they were not true by not one, but two attorneys general; multiple other Justice Department officials; and the government’s election security chief—all his appointees. He was told by his own vice president, campaign officials, and the investigators they hired. He was told by Republican governors and secretaries of state, and legislators. As one senior campaign adviser put it at the time, it was “all just conspiracy” garbage “beamed down from the mothership.”

Despite all that, Trump has never backed down in the two and a half years since, even as assertion after assertion has been debunked. Not a single independent authority who was not allied with or paid by Trump—no judge, no prosecutor, no election agency, no governor—ever has validated any substantial election fraud that would have come close to reversing the results in any of the battleground states, much less the three or four that would have been necessary to change the winner.

The one who tried to defraud the United States, Smith charged, was Trump—with bogus claims that he knew or had every reason to know were bogus—all in a bid for power. The former president will argue that this is all politics and that he should be returned to office in next year’s election, and so far millions of Americans have taken his side.

Now the justice system and the electoral system will engage in a 15-month race to see which will decide his fate first—and the country’s. The real verdict on the Trump presidency is still to come.

Research contact: @nytimes