Justice Department charges Donald Trump with third criminal offense for his role on January 6

Former President Donald Trump attends a Farmers for Trump campaign event at the MidAmerica Center on July 07, 2023 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Scott Olson—Getty Images)

On August 1, a Washington grand jury voted to charge the former President on four counts relating to his attempts to hold onto power after losing the 2020 election and his part in the events leading up to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. This marked Donald Trump’s third criminal indictment. As Trump competes for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, the prosecution sets up yet another convoluted and contentious court conflict.

The most recent indictment, which the Justice Department announced on Tuesday and names six unnamed co-conspirators, comes after a nearly eight-month investigation by Special Counsel Jack Smith, whose team had questioned numerous prominent individuals in Trump’s circle, including the former Vice President Mike Pence, regarding Trump’s attempts to sabotage the orderly transfer of power on January 6. The four allegations are obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to hinder an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the government, and conspiracy against the right to vote.

“Each of these conspiracies—which built upon the widespread mistrust the Defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud—targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election,” the indictment reads.

Trump referred to the indictment as “fake” and charged Smith with attempting to “interfere” with the 2024 election in a post on Truth Social that was published not long before the DOJ revealed the allegations. He wrote, “Why didn’t they do this 2.5 years ago?” Why were they so patient? Considering that they wanted to place it in the midst of my campaign.

According to the Justice Department, the government has ordered Trump to show up in federal court in Washington, D.C., on August 3.

“The attack on our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021 was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Smith stated on Tuesday. “Our inquiry into more people is ongoing. My office will request a prompt trial in this case so that a jury of ordinary persons can evaluate our evidence and render a verdict.

Trump is charged in the indictment with frequently making false allegations about electoral fraud despite knowing they were untrue. It claims that numerous administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, senior DOJ officials, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, and senior White House attorneys, informed him there was no widespread fraud that would have altered the outcome of the election.

However, this did not deter Trump from continuing with his efforts to maintain his position of authority. According to the indictment, a fundamental element of the accusations derives from Trump’s attempts to submit phony elector slates in crucial swing states that went for Joe Biden, like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Additionally, it describes private phone discussions between Trump and Pence in the days preceding the attack on January 6, during which Pence allegedly made “contemporaneous notes” of the exchanges. In one of them, after Pence claimed he lacked the power to unilaterally reject the election results, Trump allegedly told Pence he was “too honest” According to the indictment, John Eastman, an attorney for Trump, also persuaded Pence to tamper with the Electoral College vote. Eastman allegedly argued that “violence had previously been necessary in the nation’s history where violence was necessary to protect the republic” in response to a senior aide’s warning that such a move would incite riots in the streets.

Tuesday, Pence released a statement in response to the charge, part of which read: “On January 6th, Former President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. I decided on the Constitution and will do so forever.

The indictment claims that by the time Trump’s attempts to annul the election had intensified on January 6, he had taken advantage of the unrest by refusing to authorize a message ordering rioters to leave the structure. Hours after the crowd dispersed, though, Trump remained adamant in his assertions that the election was rigged. According to the indictment, “The White House counsel called the defendant to ask him to withdraw any objections and allow the certification.” “Defendant declined,”

The indictment is only the most recent in a long line of legal issues facing Trump. Additionally, accusations stemming from a separate special counsel inquiry by Smith accuse him of hoarding national security secrets and thwarting efforts by the government to recover them. Trump was charged in April in New York by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg with falsifying business records to hide payments to a porn performer.

In Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has appointed a grand jury to investigate the former President’s alleged attempts to reverse the state’s 2020 election results, Trump may soon face yet another criminal trial.

Typically, having many criminal charges brought against a prominent presidential contender would be fatal to their chances of winning the office. However, Trump has used his legal precariousness as a political advantage within the confines of the Republican race. After receiving his first two indictments, Trump immediately raised millions of dollars and his popularity surged. Since then, he has maintained his position as the undisputed front-runner for the GOP candidacy in 2024, outpacing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by more than 30 points in the majority of national polls.

The Trump campaign released a statement on Tuesday saying, “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.” President Trump has consistently acted in accordance with the law and the Constitution after consulting with seasoned attorneys.

Before the most recent indictment was made public, Trump wrote on Truth Social, “I have the right to protest an Election that I am fully convinced was Rigged and Stolen.”

That won’t be a strong enough legal argument, says Jessica Roth, a professor at Cardozo School of Law and a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. No matter how certain you are that you won the election, she explains, “you can’t use unlawful means even if you believe you did.” It is not a persuasive legal defense. According to Roth, if prosecutors can show that Trump was aware he had lost the election yet continued to make false statements, it will “significantly” aid their case.

Trump’s response to the accusations has centered on inciting a sense of group animosity among MAGA supporters. He frequently reminds his followers at rallies, “They’re not coming after me, they’re coming after you.” Without providing any proof, he has also asserted that the prosecutions are a politically driven witch hunt intended to bring down the man standing in President Biden’s way of a second term.

However, Smith’s most recent indictment might be the one that Trump’s detractors have been hankering for the most out of all the ones issued so far. After 50 years of avoiding investigations, Democrats and Never Trump Republicans have delighted in seeing Trump face any form of legal punishment. However, they have particularly wanted him to answer for his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and his attempts to thwart the peaceful transfer of power.

The historic Jan. 6 Committee examined Trump’s multifaceted attempts to rig the 2020 election during primetime hearings that drew more than 20 million people last summer and fall. The nine-member, nonpartisan panel worked diligently to demonstrate how Trump was mostly to blame for the violent coup attempt. The committee stated in its final report that former President Donald Trump was the primary cause of the events on January 6. “Without him, none of the January 6 events would have occurred.”

After an 18-month investigation and 10 public hearings, the panel’s members unanimously decided to submit criminal charges against Trump to the Justice Department last December. According to the committee, there was sufficient evidence to support at least four criminal charges, including hindering an official investigation, conspiring to defraud the government, making false statements, and supporting an insurrection. It was the first time a congressional committee made a statement like that against a former president, even though the action had no legal standing.

The referral happened at the same time as the Justice Department was conducting its own investigation into what happened on January 6; by that point, Smith had been designated as special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland after Trump declared his candidacy for president in November.

Trump has frequently claimed that the numerous criminal investigations against him are a tool of systemic forces working to bring him down. Some have speculated that Trump officially launching his campaign early—a week after the midterm elections—was done to make things difficult for prosecutors, who have a long-standing policy of seeking to prevent even the appearance of meddling in elections. Trump’s detractors believe that he intends to drag out the proceedings until after the election. If he succeeds in doing so, he may then try to have his attorney general dismiss the federal cases against him or try to pardon himself.

However, the trial in the case involving the classified documents has been postponed until May 20, 2024 by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon. The “hush money” case is set to begin in New York on March 25, 2024, right before the primaries.

Although it’s uncertain whether Trump could go to trial for the accusations from January 6 before election day, some veteran federal prosecutors believe Trump’s delay tactics are likely to succeed. In most white-collar criminal investigations, years-long delays are common; it will be considerably more difficult to expedite the high-stakes and unusual prosecutions of a former President who is also the front-runner for the Republican nominee in 2024.

Legal analysts claim that even if Trump is found guilty by the special counsel, the accusations against him will not bar him from the president. All natural-born citizens who are at least 35 years old and have lived in the United States for 14 years are eligible to run for president, according to the Constitution. Even if he were imprisoned, there is no legal barrier preventing Trump from carrying on with his presidential campaign despite being charged with a crime.

The indictment issued on Tuesday marks the start of a protracted judicial procedure for Smith and his attorneys. This is going to be a difficult case, adds Roth. “Even more difficult to argue and win than the papers case in Florida. To explain the atrocities and the previous President’s behavior, there will be a ton of evidence and a very convoluted story to be told. Compared to the Florida charges, which are rather limited in scope, it is far more extensive.

 

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