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Trump lawyer calls indictment an ‘attack on free speech and political advocacy’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his closest rival, did not defend Trump, but he said that he would “end weaponization of government” if elected president

Former U.S. Vice President and Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence speaks at the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Day Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., July 28, 2023.
Former U.S. Vice President and Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence speaks at the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Day Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., July 28, 2023.SCOTT MORGAN (REUTERS)

Donald Trump’s attorney John Lauro called the latest indictment of the former president “an attack on free speech and political advocacy.”

Lauro said in an interview on CNN Tuesday night that it is “an effort to not only criminalize, but also to censor free speech” from Trump.

He said Trump was being told by people after the 2020 presidential election “that there were problems” with it and “he also saw in real time that the rules were changing without the state legislatures weighing in.”

He said Trump was relying on the advice of an attorney, John Eastman. Eastman was the architect of a legal strategy aimed at keeping Trump in power.

Lauro said it’s up to the judge to determine how Trump will appear for his Thursday court date, but he will appear either virtually or in person in Washington.

Reactions from congressional leaders to Trump’s latest indictment largely fall along partisan lines

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries called the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol “one of the saddest and most infamous days in American history, personally orchestrated by Donald Trump and fueled by his insidious Big Lie.”

But scores of Trump’s Republican allies in Congress criticized the indictment and its timing.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy took to social media to comment about congressional testimony Monday from a former business associate of Hunter Biden as Republicans look to connect President Joe Biden to his son’s business dealings and flirt with a potential impeachment inquiry against him.

“Everyone in America could see what was going to come next: DOJ’s attempt to distract from the news and attack the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, President Trump,” McCarthy said in a post on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the third-ranking House Republican, called the indictment “an illegal attempt to interfere in the 2024 election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who delivered a blistering speech two years ago blaming Trump for Jan. 6 right after he voted to acquit Trump in a related impeachment trial, made no public comment Tuesday night.

The federal judge assigned to the election fraud case against former President Donald Trump has stood out as one of the toughest punishers of rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attack fueled by Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election. She has also ruled against him before.

Trump is to appear Thursday before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, a former assistant public defender who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama. She often has handed down prison sentences in Jan. 6, 2021, riot cases that are harsher than Justice Department prosecutors recommended.

In November 2021, she refused his request to block the release of documents to the U.S. House’s Jan. 6 committee by asserting executive privilege. She rejected his arguments that he could hold privilege over documents from his administration even after President Joe Biden had cleared the way for the National Archives to turn the papers over.

In a memorable line from her ruling, Chutkan wrote, “Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.”

Trump’s 2024 GOP rivals have mixed reactions to the indictment against him

Donald Trump’s rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination are giving mixed reactions to the latest indictment filed against him.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his closest rival, did not defend Trump. But DeSantis said in a post Tuesday on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, that he would “end weaponization of government, replace the FBI Director, and ensure a single standard of justice for all Americans” if elected president.

Former Texas congressman Will Hurd and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, two of Trump’s most vocal critics in the field, issued statements saying Trump should not be the next U.S. president.

Trump’s “denial of the 2020 election results and actions on Jan. 6 show he’s unfit for office,” Hurd said in a post on X.

Hutchinson said in a statement that Trump “is morally responsible for the attack on our democracy,” and should end his presidential campaign “for the good of the country.”

Trump received a staunch defense from biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has campaigned as someone ideologically aligned with Trump and even promised to pardon him should he win the White House.

Ramaswamy said Trump “isn’t the real cause for what happened on Jan 6″ but instead blamed the riot on “systematic and pervasive censorship of citizens.”

Pence condemns Trump’s actions surrounding Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday issued his strongest condemnation yet of Donald Trump for the former president’s actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which forced Pence to hide as some in the mob chanted “Hang Mike Pence.”

Pence, in a statement after prosecutors indicted Trump for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, said the charges serve as an important reminder that “anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States.”

Pence is now challenging Trump, his former boss and running mate, for the 2024 GOP nomination, but he is badly trailing him in the race. Pence has at times tiptoed around Trump or offered careful criticism.

But in his statement Tuesday, Pence said Trump on Jan. 6 demanded that he choose between Trump and the Constitution, and that he chose the Constitution.

“Our country is more important than one man. Our constitution is more important than any one man’s career,” he said.

Indictment describes alleged Trump pressure on Pence to delay or stop election certification

The indictment filed against Donald Trump follows closely the account of the insurrection detailed by the 18-month U.S. House investigation of the 2021 Capitol insurrection. But it also produces new evidence that was not detailed in the final report of the House’s Jan. 6 Committee.

The report lists several conversations between Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in which Trump attempted to persuade Pence to delay certification of the 2020 election or reject the presidential electors. In one call, on Jan. 1, 2021, Trump told Pence, “You’re too honest,” according to the indictment.

Pence, who fled the mob of rioters at the Capitol, declined to testify before the House committee. But he testified before the federal grand jury investigating Trump.

The new details shed light on how the vice president was pressured by Trump, and Pence responded: “You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome.”

Trump and his co-conspirators first sought to convince Pence to reject or not count legitimate electoral votes during the certification set for Jan. 6, according to the indictment.

When that failed, Trump and his co-conspirators on the morning of Jan. 6 falsely told a crowd of supporters gathered in Washington that Pence had the power to interfere in the election results and directed them to the Capitol to obstruct the certification of the vote and pressure Pence, the indictment says.

Trump repeatedly refused to tell Jan. 6 rioters to leave U.S. Capitol, indictment says

The indictment filed against Donald Trump details his alleged actions — and, at times, willful lack of action -- surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

Despite Trump’s mounting legal challenges elsewhere, the charges filed Tuesday are the first time the former president is being formally held to account for his actions in the run-up to the violent mob siege of the Capitol. About 1,000 people have been charged in the attack, some serving lengthy sentences.

As rioters ransacked the Capitol and disrupted the certification of the 2020 election results, Trump “repeatedly refused to approve a message” directing them to leave, the indictment alleges. He allegedly resisted the urgings of Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and several other top officials.

The indictment accuses Trump and his allies of exploiting the disruption caused by the violence and redoubling their efforts to spread false claims of election fraud.

On the evening of Jan. 6, as the Capitol was being cleared of rioters, Trump and an unnamed co-conspirator in the indictment called lawmakers to try to convince them to delay the certification, the indictment says.

Justice’s investigation of Trump largest in department’s history, Attorney General Garland says

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department’s investigation of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election “followed the facts and the law wherever they lead.”

Garland made brief comments in Philadelphia on Tuesday shortly after Trump was indicted for the second time by the federal government he once ran.

Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith last year to take over the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and Trump’s efforts overturn the election results.

Garland said the investigation, which led to Trump facing four charges of conspiracy and obstruction, was the largest in the department’s history.

The Justice Department has also charged Trump with 40 counts related to the mishandling of classified documents. Smith also oversaw that investigation.

Trump to make third court appearance as a criminal defendant on Thursday

For the third time, Donald Trump is scheduled to appear in a courtroom as a criminal defendant.

Trump is due in court Thursday before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington for the charges he faces related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Trump faces four counts of conspiracy in the indictment released Tuesday, including “conspiracy to defraud” the United States.

In April, Trump appeared in a New York state courtroom to plead not guilty to 34 charges in a hush money scheme stemming from the 2016 election.

In June, he appeared in federal court in Florida to plead not guilty to 37 charges that he illegally hoarded classified documents. Last week, prosecutors filed additional charges in that case, alleging that he asked a staffer to delete camera footage at his Florida home to obstruct a federal probe into the records. He now faces 40 counts in that case.

Trump is the first former president to face an indictment and the first former U.S. president to be prosecuted by the government he once ran.

Jan. 6 attack on U.S. Capitol “fueled by lies” from Trump, special counsel says

Justice Department Special counsel Jack Smith, whose team of prosecutors questioned senior Trump administration officials before a grand jury in Washington, said that the Jan, 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was “fueled by lies” from Donald Trump.

Smith made a brief statement in Washington shortly after the indictment against the former president was released Tuesday.

“The attack on our nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Smith said, adding that the law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol that day were heroes.

Smith said he’d seek a speedy trial for the former president.

Trump is due in court Thursday before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.

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