The latest indictment of Trump raises issues at the core of American democracy.
The two previous indictments of Donald Trump focused on his personal conduct, one involving a sex scandal and the other his handling of classified documents. Yesterday’s indictment is different. It involves arguably the most central issue in a democracy: an attempt to subvert an American election.
“At the core of the United States of America vs. Donald J. Trump is no less than the viability of the system constructed” by the founders, our colleague Peter Baker, The Times’s chief White House correspondent, wrote. “Can a sitting president spread lies about an election and try to employ his government’s power to overturn the will of the voters without consequence?”
In today’s newsletter, we’ll explain the details of the indictment and focus on the new information that prosecutors released yesterday.
The new indictment lays out a scheme that, by now, is widely known: Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election results were rigged and tried to rally federal officials, state lawmakers and his supporters, including rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn his loss to President Biden.
The indictment accuses Trump of four crimes: conspiracy to violate Americans’ right to vote, conspiracy to defraud the government, obstructing an official proceeding and conspiring to do so. Unlike the previous indictments, the charges stem primarily from actions Trump took while he was president.
“The attack on our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Jack Smith, the special counsel who led the Justice Department investigation in the case, said yesterday. “It was fueled by lies — lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
In a statement, Trump called the new charges “election interference” and compared the Biden administration to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Much of the indictment builds on the work of the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack. But the indictment also presents some new information. Examples include:
Trump tried repeatedly to persuade Mike Pence that the vice president had the power to overturn the election results in Congress. When Pence said that he did not believe he had that authority, Trump allegedly responded, “You’re too honest.”
The indictment said that Trump had six co-conspirators, but it did not name them. The Times reported several likely candidates, including the former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. Prosecutors could charge co-conspirators in the coming weeks.
A deputy White House counsel warned one alleged co-conspirator, believed to be Clark, that if Trump tried to stay in office, there would be “riots in every major city in the United States.” That co-conspirator’s response seemed to suggest that Trump could use his power as commander in chief to crush the protests: “That’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.”
The top charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Trump will be arraigned in federal court in Washington in the coming days and will likely be asked to enter a plea to the charges.
The federal judicial system uses a random system for assigning cases to judges, and Judge Tanya Chutkan, a Barack Obama appointee based in Washington, will oversee this case. She has overseen trials of the Jan. 6 rioters, issuing harsh sentences against them. Previously, she also rejected Trump’s attempt to avoid disclosing documents to the House’s Jan. 6 committee, writing, “Presidents are not kings.” (Read more about Chutkan in The Washington Post.)
The timing of a trial remains uncertain, but it could be next year, when Trump is also set to face trials for his handling of classified documents and his attempt to hide a sexual encounter. Separately, a Georgia prosecutor is investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results there and may soon file charges.
Will these cases hurt Trump’s 2024 campaign? So far, they have not. If anything, Republican primary voters have rallied to support him. Still, polls suggest that many swing voters believe Trump has committed crimes, and the spectacle of multiple trials could damage his general election campaign. For now, he and Biden are running very close to one another in the polls.
“Trump likes to project bravado, but he is extremely angry and unsettled about this indictment, according to people who have spoken with him,” our colleague Maggie Haberman, who covers Trump, wrote. “This particular indictment touches a lot of people in his orbit in a way the previous two do not.”
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ARTS AND IDEAS
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