Trump’s charges strike at the very heart of American democracy

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Washington: America survived 234 years without a president or former president ever being indicted.

Then along came Donald J Trump, who now faces so many legal entanglements that even keen observers of US politics may struggle to keep up.

President Donald Trump recording a video statement on the afternoon of January 6, 2021.Credit: AP

In April, the Republican presidential nominee was charged with 34 counts related to alleged hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.

In May, a civil jury in Manhattan found him liable of sexually abusing and defaming New York writer E. Jean Carroll.

And in June, he was indicted yet again – this time by the federal justice department over his alleged mishandling of classified documents.

Now, with the US presidential election only 15 months away – and Trump the overwhelming frontrunner to win the Republican nomination to run against Joe Biden – he faces a fresh set of federal charges over his attempt to stop Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory being certified.

Nicky Sundt holds a banner outside the Federal District Court.Credit: AP

Indeed, when added to other legal woes relating to his business and another potential indictment looming in Georgia over alleged election interference in that state, Trump faces as many as six civil or criminal court cases against him, his family or his companies as he campaigns for another term in the White House next year.

But what makes the latest charges so serious is that they strike at the very heart of American democracy – and Trump will be forced to confront them in the Democratic city where his alleged assault on democracy took place.

While hush money and classified documents are important matters, never before has a newly ousted president engaged in a multipart plan to overturn the lawful result of a US election, resulting in a deadly riot in the nation’s capital.

That’s exactly what was laid bare in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s 45-page indictment, which charges Trump on four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights (namely, the rights of voters).

Boiled down, the charges reinforce many of the findings of the January 6 Select Committee, whose final report last December created a road map for the Justice Department to investigate this case.

Smith’s grand jury probe tells much the same tale. According to the indictment, Trump attempted to remain in power by stoking lies about a stolen election, including false claims that dead people were casting ballots and that rigged machines were creating results in favour of Biden.

He and six unnamed co-conspirators – believed to include his former lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and John Eastman – also allegedly concocted a “fake electors scheme” to flip electoral votes in battleground states where he lost.

He then engaged in a pressure campaign to get various justice department officials, state representatives and his own vice president to stop Biden’s victory from being certified.

And he ultimately exploited the “intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger” over the 2020 election, which led to his supporters eventually storming the Capitol building.

Equally astonishing is the fact that Trump did all this despite being told by his own aides, White House lawyers and intelligence officials, that there was no evidence to prove the election was rigged.

Indeed, one political adviser, believed to Jason Miller, who is now central to Trump’s re-election campaign, is quoted as saying: “I’ll obviously help to hustle on all fronts but it’s tough to own any of this when it’s all just conspiracy shit beamed down from the mothership.”

It is yet to be seen if Trump’s many legal woes will affect his chances of securing his party’s nomination to run against Biden next year. For now, he is so far ahead in the polls that even adversaries marvel at his resilience.

The latest New York Times/Siena poll released on Monday, for example, had Trump a massive 37 points ahead of his nearest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and more than 50 points ahead of other Republicans seeking the nomination, such as former vice president Mike Pence, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley and US Senator Tim Scott.

And with every indictment that’s handed down, his donations surge as he portrays himself as a victim of a political witch-hunt.

But make no mistake, the latest charges are arguably the most serious so far, and present a challenge for Trump distinct from the others.

The classified documents case, for example, will be tried in Florida, a Republican state where Trump is incredibly popular and only requires one jury member out of 12 to force an acquittal.

The New York hush money case will be tried in left leaning Manhattan, but there have always been questions about whether District Attorney Alvin Bragg could make the charges stick.

But the January 6 trial, on the other hand, will involve a jury pool selected from a Democratic city that lived through the Capitol attack, and it will be tried in a courthouse where hundreds of rioters who stormed the building that day have already been prosecuted.

“This has the inevitability of a Greek tragedy and we’re now getting to the climax,” says Columbia Law School Professor John Coffee.

“You know what is coming – but you do not know if enough voters care to make a difference.”

Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.

Most Viewed in World

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article