Trump faces trial over 2020 election interference charges

Former President Donald Trump appeared in court on Thursday to plead not guilty to four felony charges that he tried to interfere with the 2020 presidential election. The charges, brought by special counsel Jack Smith, allege that Trump engaged in a campaign of lies and disinformation to undermine the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory, and that he incited a violent mob to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop the certification of the electoral votes.

Trump faces trial

The next step: scheduling the trial

The arraignment was a brief and formal procedure, where Trump entered his plea and waived his right to a preliminary hearing. The next step in the case is to schedule the trial, which could take months or even years to begin. Both sides will file arguments soon on how swiftly, or slowly, the case should move. Then it’s up to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is expected to preside over the case.

Prosecutors, who have been investigating the case since January 2021, want the trial to start as soon as possible. They declined to ask the magistrate judge who presided over the arraignment to waive time under the so-called “Speedy Trial Act,” a typically routine step that acknowledges it will take longer than 70 days to prepare for trial.

Trump’s defense, on the other hand, says it needs more time to review the evidence and mount a challenge. Attorney John Lauro suggested erroneously in court that prosecutors have had “3 and a half years” to investigate the case — an estimate that would put the start of the probe about a year before Jan. 6, 2021. But his point was clear: Trump’s team should have a similarly lengthy time to prepare, or else the process won’t be fair.

The evidence: millions of pages and terabytes of data

The case against Trump is based on a massive amount of evidence, including millions of pages of documents, terabytes of data, hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings, and testimony from dozens of witnesses. Some of the evidence is classified at the highest levels, which will require special procedures and security measures to handle.

Prosecutors have already provided more than 1.1 million pages of unclassified emails and other documents to defense lawyers. In addition, the defense was given access to nine months or 57 terabytes of CCTV recordings from Mar-a-Lago surveillance cameras and perhaps elsewhere. This material will obviously take a long time for defense attorneys to go through.

Separately, prosecutors have asked Chutkan to issue a so-called protective order governing the classified information at issue in the case. It would set rules about who can see the information and what sanctions will face anyone who violates it. The judge ruled that the prosecution’s motion, brought under the Classified Information Protection Act or CIPA (pronounced: SEE-pa), was premature because there wasn’t enough opportunity for the defense to weigh in but set a deadline next Thursday for prosecutors to re-file the motion.

The charges: obstruction of justice and conspiracy

The indictment against Trump contains four counts: obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, and tampering with witnesses or evidence. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The obstruction charge relates to Trump’s alleged efforts to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s electoral victory on Jan. 6, 2021. The indictment says that Trump “corruptly endeavored” to influence, obstruct, or impede Congress by making false statements about voter fraud and election irregularities; pressuring state officials to overturn or delay their results; urging his supporters to attend a rally in Washington D.C.; and inciting them to attack the Capitol.

The conspiracy charge accuses Trump of conspiring with others “to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate” people who were exercising their right to vote or have their votes counted. The indictment says that Trump and his co-conspirators “used force and threats of force” against election workers, poll watchers, voters, and public officials; spread false information about election fraud; filed frivolous lawsuits; and attempted to coerce or intimidate state officials.

The deprivation charge alleges that Trump deprived people of their constitutional rights “under color of law,” meaning that he used his authority as president to interfere with their rights. The indictment says that Trump “willfully” violated people’s rights by trying to prevent them from voting or having their votes counted; by trying to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory; and by trying to prevent federal law enforcement from protecting Congress and investigating the attack on the Capitol.

The tampering charge accuses Trump of tampering with witnesses or evidence in connection with Smith’s investigation. The indictment says that Trump “knowingly” tried to influence or prevent testimony or evidence by making false statements; by threatening or retaliating against witnesses; by withholding or destroying documents; and by refusing to cooperate with subpoenas or requests for information.

The defense: challenging the evidence and the law

Trump’s defense team has not yet revealed its strategy, but it is likely to challenge both the evidence and the law in the case. The defense may argue that some of the evidence is unreliable, irrelevant, or inadmissible; that some of the classified information is too sensitive to be disclosed or used in court; that some of the witnesses are biased, untrustworthy, or coerced; and that some of the documents are protected by executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.

The defense may also argue that the charges are legally flawed, unconstitutional, or politically motivated. The defense may contend that Trump’s actions were protected by the First Amendment; that he did not intend to obstruct or conspire with anyone; that he did not deprive anyone of their rights; that he did not tamper with any witnesses or evidence; and that Smith’s appointment as special counsel was improper or unlawful.

The defense may also try to appeal to the jury’s emotions, sympathies, or prejudices. The defense may portray Trump as a victim of a witch hunt, a coup, or a deep state conspiracy; as a champion of democracy, patriotism, or populism; or as a scapegoat for the failures of others. The defense may also try to cast doubt on Biden’s legitimacy, the integrity of the election, or the credibility of the prosecution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *