Once again, the era of Donald Trump entered this Tuesday into uncharted territory, with the indictment of the former Republican president by a grand jury in Washington tasked with investigating his attempts to invalidate the legitimate results of the November 2020 elections, which he called a fraud. He was also indicted for his role as instigator of the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. The Republican candidate is due to appear before the judge this Thursday in Washington, D.C. at 4:00 p.m.
This is his third indictment: he was arrested in April in New York in connection with the hush money paid in 2016 to porn actress Stormy Daniels so she would keep quiet about an extramarital affair, and in June in Miami, where he appeared before a judge to answer for the handling of hundreds of boxes of confidential documents that he took without permission from the White House, when he reluctantly left office. He retained them in his Mar-a-Lago mansion, despite repeated demands from the authorities to turn the files over. At least 31 of those classified documents are related to national security.
In a wild message full of conspiracy theories, Trump’s campaign on Tuesday lashed out at Special Counsel Jack Smith and President Biden. “This is nothing more than the latest corrupt chapter in the continued pathetic attempt by the Biden Crime Family and their weaponized Department of Justice to interfere with the 2024 Presidential Election, in which President Trump is the undisputed frontrunner, and leading by substantial margins,” said a statement, comparing these “persecutions” of Trump to “Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes.”
“These un-American witch hunts will fail and President Trump will be re-elected to the White House so he can save our Country from the abuse, incompetence, and corruption that is running through the veins of our Country at levels never seen before,” the statement added.
In New York, the former president was charged with 34 felony counts and, in Miami, he faced 37. This time around, Trump faces four counts: conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, witness tampering and conspiracy against citizens’ rights. The investigation was entrusted by the Department of Justice to Jack Smith, the special prosecutor who is also handling the confidential papers case.
Trump’s claims to have won the election, the indictment says, “were false, and the defendant knew they were false. But the defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway — to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election.” It is a conclusion similar to the one reached by the special congressional committee, consisting of seven Democratic and two Republican congressmen, which investigated the former president for the assault on the Capitol; both agree that Trump put the country on the brink of a coup.
During the investigation, Smith, and the grand jury he convened, focused on Trump’s actions during the 67 days between the election that gave Joe Biden the win, and Jan. 6, 2021, when he summoned thousands of his supporters to a rally in Washington — “Be there, it’s gonna be wild!” he exhorted them on Twitter. He also told them to fight “like hell.” What happened next is an infamous part in the history of American democracy: some 2,500 of his followers stormed the Capitol, where Biden’s electoral triumph was being certified in a joint session of Congress, a process that up until then had always been carried out peacefully, and which this time was led by then-Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump tried to pressure unsuccessfully not to accept the Democratic triumph, even though it was not in his power to do so. The mob advanced towards the Parliament to the cry of “let’s hang Mike Pence!”
Five people were killed that day, and more than 150 police officers were injured. A federal court in Washington, D.C., has since been charged with prosecuting those involved, as part of the “most wide-ranging investigation” in the history of the Justice Department, as Attorney General Merrick Garland has called it. More than a thousand defendants have already been indicted, and the case is far from closed.
The special congressional committee had already investigated Trump over the course of 18 months, a job from which the Washington grand jury has particularly benefited. They interviewed a thousand witnesses and examined some 100,000 documents. The findings were presented in a series of televised hearings from Capitol Hill. The fruit of their work was an 814-page report that concluded with a unanimous recommendation: that Trump not be allowed to run for any public office again, and that he be tried for four crimes: incitement to insurrection, conspiracy to give false testimony and to defraud the United States, and obstruction of an official congressional proceeding.
The indictment of former president Trump — who, a few days after January 6, was subjected to an impeachment trial, the second of his presidency — has been 32 months in the making. The defendant himself noted this last week, calling attention to the fact that more than two years have passed since that historic day and pointing out that the indictment comes at a time when he is comfortably leading the polls over the rest of the candidates who will contest the Republican primaries for the 2024 presidential election. It is proof, he argues, that the three indictments he faces are just a way for the Biden administration to push him out of the race.
A “witch hunt”
Trump often speaks of a “witch hunt” and “election interference” when referring to his legal woes, while at the same time employing a messianic tone by telling his supporters that in reality the “political instrumentalization” of institutions such as the FBI or the Department of Justice is ultimately a way to target his voters. “I hear that deranged Jack Smith, in order to interfere with the presidential election of 2024, will be putting out yet another fake indictment of your favorite president, me,” he posted this Tuesday on Truth Social. “But why did they wait two and a half years to bring these fake charges, right in the middle of President Trump’s winning campaign for 2024?” he added.
What is certain is that three indictments are bound to interfere with his campaign. The trial date for the Stormy Daniels case in New York is set for March 2024, two months after the primaries start in Iowa. Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who is overseeing the Mar-a-Lago case in Miami, set the start of that trial for May 20, 2024. The dates, however, are not set in stone, and they could change. Trump’s lawyers have tried to delay all the proceedings until after the November 2024 elections, and they will likely continue to do so.
As on previous occasions, Trump himself announced that he was going to be indicted. On July 18, he posted on Truth Social that he had received a letter from Smith notifying him that he was being investigated for the assault on the Capitol. Smith and the grand jury continued, despite the noise generated by Trump, with their inquiries. They kept summoning people around him for questioning until the last minute, and on Monday CNN reported that they had received some 1,000 pages of documents that they had not yet had a chance to review. The network also recounted that the investigation had broadened to include an Oval Office meeting as early as February 2020, in which Trump praised improvements to the security of U.S. elections just before embarking on a months-long campaign to cast doubt on the November elections by alleging irregularities in election counting machines and early voting.
Trump has another judicial front pending, which could materialize, according to the prosecutor handling the case, Democrat Fani T. Willis, as soon as this month. It is an investigation, in this case by a special grand jury, for the alleged maneuvers he and his team carried out to manipulate the outcome of the 2020 elections in Georgia. The investigation, which began in February 2021, is centered around a call that Trump made to the attorney general of the southern state, Brad Raffensperger, to demand that he “find” 11,780 votes, one more than the number of votes Biden had won in Georgia. Yesterday, a judge rejected Trump’s bid to recuse the prosecutor from the case.
The Atlanta trial, which would be his fourth indictment, differs from previous ones in that in this case up to 20 people from Trump’s inner circle could also be implicated, including Rudy Giuliani, lawyer of the former president and former mayor of New York; Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff; and John Eastman, alleged legal mastermind behind Trump’s attempts to stay in power.
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