The document dealing the latest round of federal criminal charges against Donald Trump is disappointingly short on loyal Trump employees walking around shining flashlights at the security cameras from which they hoped to delete footage. But these charges are hugely important, focusing as they do on Trump’s efforts to overturn an election. So what are the key points and must-read passages in this indictment?
Much of the indictment follows the road map of the Jan. 6 committee’s report, but in this much-shorter document, prosecutors are choosing each specific detail to make the case that Trump is guilty of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. Proving that Trump knew his claims of election theft were false is critically important here—that this wasn’t just an exercise of free, if incorrect, speech.
The prosecutors go through a long list of instances when people close to Trump told him that specific claims were false, yet Trump repeated those same claims publicly. For instance, in his speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6:
The Defendant insinuated that more than ten thousand dead voters had voted in Georgia. Just four days earlier, Georgia’s Secretary of State had explained to the Defendant that this was false.
The Defendant asserted that there had been 205,000 more votes than voters in Pennsylvania. The Defendant’s Acting Attorney General and Acting Deputy Attorney General had explained to him that this was false.
It was false, he had been told it was false by his aides and political allies, and he went on to publicly say it was true. That pattern establishes that Trump knew. The frustration of the people trying to get through to Trump on this oozes off the page in a senior campaign adviser’s email reading. “When our research and campaign legal team can’t back up any of the claims made by our Elite Strike Force Legal Team, you can see why we’re 0-32 on our cases. I’ll obviously hustle to help on all fronts, but it’s tough to own any of this when it’s all just conspiracy shit beamed down from the mothership.”
Days later, in an exchange between senior campaign staff, the deputy campaign manager wrote of the fake electors plan, “Here’s the thing the way this has morphed it’s a crazy play so I don’t know who wants to put their name on it.” The senior campaign adviser responded, “Certifying illegal votes,” and the group of top campaign staff members and advisers refused to attach their names to a statement promoting the fake electors scheme. That had to send a message to Trump.
Trump’s lawyers will be left in the position of arguing that Trump just didn’t believe any of them. He didn’t believe his vice president, his top campaign aides, his top White House aides, or his top Justice Department officials. “I would like them to try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump believed that these allegations were false,” Trump lawyer John Lauro said on Fox News following the indictment. It’s a heck of a defense, but it’s what they have here.
But prosecutors are ready for that. For instance, they note that Trump amplified a tweet promoting co-conspirator 3 Sidney Powell’s lawsuit alleging “massive election fraud” in Georgia, “despite the fact that when he had discussed Co-Conspirator 3’s far-fetched public claims regarding the voting machine company in private with advisors, the Defendant had conceded that they were unsupported and that Co-Conspirator 3 sounded ‘crazy.’”
Trump knew it wasn’t true, but it was convenient for him to push the false claim publicly, so he did. That criminal reality shows up again when Trump is quoted telling the acting attorney general and acting deputy attorney general, “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
Trump’s awareness that he had lost the election came through even more strongly when, briefed on a national security issue by the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and advised not to take action on it, he said, “Yeah, you’re right, it’s too late for us. We’re going to give that to the next guy.” That was on Jan. 3, days before he went before a crowd at the Ellipse and repeated a string of lies about the election having been stolen, then urged the crowd to march on the Capitol.
Maybe the most powerful statement that Trump knew he was lying about the outcome of the election and his power to change the result came in a Jan 1 conversation with Mike Pence. When Pence said he had no authority to refuse to certify the election, Trump responded, “You’re too honest.”
“You’re too honest.” If Pence was being honest, and Trump saw that as a flaw, it follows directly that Trump knew he himself was being dishonest. He wasn’t just mistaken, he hadn’t just somehow failed to hear the dozens of times he was told that fraud claims were false and the election had not been stolen from him, and he hadn’t heard that but not believed it. Trump knew that Sidney Powell’s claims were unsupported. He acknowledged that the Justice Department didn’t have a basis for concern about fraud changing the outcome of the election but he wanted its leaders to make that claim anyway to give him and “the Republican congressmen” material to work with. He knew that “the next guy” would be taking office within weeks. And he knew that Pence was being “honest” in defying his demands.
On Jan. 5, after Pence had repeatedly rebuffed Trump’s demands that he refuse to certify the election, Trump approved a campaign statement that said, “The Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.” There was absolutely no way he believed that to be true, and it became part of the false narrative that Pence had betrayed him. On the morning of Jan. 6, after Pence again would not cave, Trump “decided to single out the Vice President in public remarks he would make within the hour, reinserting language that he had personally drafted earlier that morning—falsely claiming that the Vice President had authority to send electoral votes to the states—but that advisors had previously successfully advocated be removed.”
Trump’s defense, as telegraphed by his lead lawyer, is that he didn’t know this stuff was false, but the prosecutors anticipated that defense at every turn. And, the indictment shows, even after Trump saw the violence of the attack on the Capitol and knew the seriousness of what he’d incited, he and his co-conspirators continued trying to reach members of Congress to lobby them to delay the vote certification.
Once again, we have a detailed account of Trump committing crimes. Whether the U.S. legal system is up to the challenge of convicting someone as powerful as he is, with the unified support of one of the major political parties, is an open question. But just as Trump knew he lost the election even if he wouldn’t admit it, everyone who’s paying any attention now knows that he is a criminal—even if they won’t admit it.
Conservatives cried about how the “woke” (whatever that means) “Barbie” movie would fail. It didn’t. In fact, the film has struck a chord with American and international audiences. Daily Kos writer Laura Clawson joins Markos to talk about the film and the implications of the Republican Party’s fixation on mythical culture wars, which is failing them in bigger and bigger ways every day.