August 2, 2023

Trump Indicted

Donald Trump was indicted on Tuesday for his wide-ranging attempts to overturn the 2020 election, the third time in four months that the former U.S. president has been criminally charged… Then-President Trump pushed fraud claims he knew to be untrue, pressured state and federal officials - including Vice President Mike Pence - to alter the results and finally incited a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol in a desperate attempt to undermine American democracy and cling to power, prosecutors said.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left supports the charges, arguing that Trump must be held to account for his attempt to overturn the election.

Trump’s corrupt intent was clear: he was repeatedly told that the election was not stolen and he knew that no evidence supported his outrageous claims of ballot tampering. He nonetheless allegedly tried to pressure state legislators, state election officials, Department of Justice officials, and his own vice president to manipulate [the] arcane, complex election rules…

“[Trump] will likely assert First Amendment defenses. As the indictment itself notes near the beginning, ‘the Defendant has a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud during the election that he had won.’ But Trump did not just state the false claims; he allegedly used the false claims to engage in a conspiracy to steal the election. There is no First Amendment right to use speech to subvert an election, any more than there is a First Amendment right to use speech to bribe, threaten, or intimidate.”

Richard L. Hasen, Slate

“They tried to get state governments to subvert the election results. They encouraged the creation and submission of fraudulent slates of electors. They attempted to weaponize the power of the Justice Department by standing up sham investigations. And they unsuccessfully pressured Vice President Mike Pence to exceed his powers and throw the certification of the election into turmoil…

“Trump has suggested in recent days that he was relying on what he believed was good advice as he contested the election, but the indictment goes into detail to rebut that idea. Practically every aide in a position to know told Trump that the fraud claims were bunk and wouldn’t fly in court. He himself allegedly acknowledged in private that they sounded ‘crazy.’”

David A. Graham, The Atlantic

If Trump’s behavior is allowed to stand, if it is not called out for the crime that it appears to be, the message to future presidents seeking to retain power at all costs would be: The coast is clear. Do what you need to remain in office. You can get away with murder in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and insurrection in the very halls of democracy. Prosecuting Trump on these charges is a grave, even perilous, step. Condoning his behavior by ignoring it would be far worse.”

Ruth Marcus, Washington Post

From the Right

The right is skeptical of the charges, arguing that Trump’s claims are protected by the First Amendment.

The right is skeptical of the charges, arguing that Trump’s claims are protected by the First Amendment.

“The indictment charges that Trump and his confederates lied to legislatures about the election being fraudulent. That’s bad – but presidents and governors lying to legislatures to get them to do things happens every day. It charges that Trump spread lies to the public and smeared elections officials. That’s dirty politics, but it’s politics…

“It charges that Trump got his electors to cast votes that would not be counted unless a court or some other government body recognized them, and tried to browbeat the Georgia secretary of state into deciding that the election included thousands of fraudulent votes. But in none of these cases was anyone deceived – the same legal problem that undermines Alvin Bragg’s indictment of Trump for lying to his own checkbook…

“Finally, it charges that Trump signed a false verification in an election lawsuit. That, at least, could be a crime – but Smith hasn’t charged lying to a court as a separate crime. Why not? Maybe Smith thinks there’s so many charges against Trump now that nobody should care about the details. But in a nation of laws, the rules matter. Even for Donald Trump.”

Dan McLaughlin, New York Post

“As the Supreme Court reaffirmed just a few weeks ago, fraud in federal criminal law is a scheme to swindle victims out of money or tangible property. Mendacious rhetoric in seeking to retain political office is damnable — [and] impeachable — but it’s not criminal fraud, although that is what Smith has charged… Hyperbole and even worse are protected political speech…

“As for obstruction, Americans, presidents included, have a right to attempt to influence Congress, even based on dubious or imagined evidence… The concept of corruption is meant to reach clearly criminal conduct, such as evidence manipulation or witness tampering. It has never been understood to reach wrong-headed legal theories…

“In his press conference announcing the charges, Smith — for good reason — did not dwell on his questionable charges. He instead emphasized the Capitol riot. Anyone witnessing his remarks would have believed that Trump had incited a forcible attack on the Capitol. Of course, Smith has not charged him with any such thing because he doesn’t have the evidence to tie him criminally to the riot. The prosecutor was making a political statement.”

The Editors, National Review

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