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Third strike

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WORLD Radio - Third strike

A special counsel in Washington indicts Donald Trump on three counts of conspiracy and one count of obstruction for the events of Jan. 6, 2021


Special counsel Jack Smith speaks about an indictment of former President Donald Trump in Washington. Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 3rd of August, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

First up, another indictment against former president Donald Trump.

Back in March, Trump was indicted in New York for a conspiracy to cover up payments to silence reports of extramarital affairs. And then in June, Trump was indicted in Florida for mishandling sensitive documents.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: That brings us to yesterday. That’s when a grand jury in the District of Columbia indicted Trump on charges related to his response to the 2020 election results. The indictment contains four charges that we will get to in a moment.

Trump is set to appear in court for arraignment later today.

So what exactly is and is not in the indictment?

Here now to talk about it is WORLD’s politics reporter Carolina Lumetta. She joins us from WORLD’s studio in Washington D.C.

Carolina, welcome.

CAROLINA LUMETTA, REPORTER: Hi, Mary.

REICHARD: Let’s start with this latest indictment…keeping in mind that’s not the same as a conviction…but what’s the story that special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment tells about Trump’s response to the 2020 election?

LUMETTA: It's a long and complicated story. But essentially Special Counsel Jack Smith is trying to use the indictment as proof that Trump A) knew that the claims that he had about election fraud in 2020 were false, then B) decided to pursue them anyway, and C) that it led to riots at the US Capitol on January 6. This is what's known as a speaking indictment. It's not just a statement of the charges he's facing. It's also an explanation of the months of investigation that Jack Smith has been doing, which includes a lot of background detail that wasn't really fully fleshed out before. So it starts with alleging that Trump and a series of co-conspirators called state election officials, state legislators, asking them to either find new votes, change the official votes from Biden to Trump, or file a bunch of lawsuits to delay certification. Then it moves on to talking about this plan to use electors in seven key targeted states. This includes Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Georgia to try to submit Electoral College votes in addition to Biden's and try to boost his numbers that way. Then the indictment says that he tried to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to delay certification in Congress or at the very least send the electoral slates back to the states to figure out which ones were the right ones. It all culminates, Smith says, with then Trump repeating claims that he knew were false to a bunch of people at the ellipse in DC on January 6, sending them to the capitol and then refusing to intervene when things got violent.

REICHARD So that’s a lot of background narrative in the indictment. But what is Trump actually charged with doing?

LUMETTA: So he's being charged with four counts all related to Title 18 of the criminal code. The first one is conspiracy to defraud the United States. That means they're saying he tried to change the election results through a lot of those details that I just mentioned before. The second charge is conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. The official proceeding being the congressional certification of votes on January 6th. The third charge is attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, meaning he actually did succeed when Congress had to shelter in place for several hours. Pence had to hide in a secure location until they could reconvene to certify the votes. And then the fourth and final count is conspiracy against rights. Specifically the right to vote. Smith's argument is that Trump intimidated electors and state officials pushing what he knew to be lies about election fraud. This then according to the indictment runs afoul of every citizen's right to vote and have their vote fairly counted.

REICHARD: But what evidence do they present to back those charges up?

LUMETTA: Right, we're gonna get a lot more details from this whenever a trial happens. Right now we just have what the indictment says in 45 pages, which, if you're considering all the months that he's been investigating, is honestly not that much. The indictment does reference a bunch of personal text conversations, phone calls, emails, even has Pence’s contemporaneous notes that he took after meetings with President Trump. So it looks like they have a lot of first hand accounts of people who interacted with President Trump. So it includes a lot of personal conversations between people, some that don't actually involve Trump though. For example, there's a conversation that lists between deputy White House counsel, and the person who's listed as co-conspirator number four, the White House Counsel is saying, Hey, if you keep continuing these fake elector plans, if you keep trying to pressure Pence, this is going to end up with riots in the street. And then according to the indictment, co-conspirator number four says, well, that's why there's an Insurrection Act.

REICHARD: So we have these three conspiracy charges. But I remember early on, many people were saying that Trump should be charged with inciting a riot. What happened with that charge?

LUMETTA: The indictment doesn't accuse him of that. It does not say that he called for violence, asked for violence, incited a riot or conspired to for sedition. So most of this relies on proving that he knowingly spread information that wasn't true. The most it accuses him of doing is it has a section where it says he quote, "exploited the disruption." What they mean by that is the indictment says that while people were rioting at the Capitol, breaking in, Trump and a lot of the co-conspirators were calling lawmakers saying, Hey, this is what happened, please change the vote. But all of that doesn't actually amount to criminal incitement. Because it doesn't, this trial could actually turn into another litigation over whether there was election fraud. Because if prosecution has to prove that Trump knew what he said was false, Trump could make his defense that he sincerely believed it, or there genuinely was fraud, and therefore he shouldn't be charged.

REICHARD: And Trump may welcome that opportunity to show that there was election fraud; who knows? Well, let's turn to the race for 2024. Now, Trump is currently far far ahead of his competitors in national polls. So what might this indictment and any trials to come mean for his campaign?

LUMETTA: Well, just like with each of the past two indictments Trump has faced, he's calling it a political witch hunt. For a long time, he said that the Justice Department is really just interested in throwing anything they can at him and hoping that it sticks. So the Trump campaign is kind of treating this as business as usual. And he has received a polling and donation boost each time he's been indicted. This month, though, it does look like legal fees are starting to take a toll on his campaign. I have more information about this up online. But in the latest FEC filings, it shows that the Trump campaign has been spending 10s of millions on legal fees, moving a lot of money around between the campaign and super PACs, and it's a lot to keep track of as far as what it means for voters. This is the really big question, because Trump is at this point in time the presumptive Republican nominee, it's not clear what can stop him. It does appear to keep energizing his base. It's not clear what this is going to do to a lot of the other voters though.  Even if Trump can tell his base that the DOJ is persecuting him, it's not clear that undecided voters will, will really care one way or the other. If Trump ends up being the Republican nominee, and Biden ends up being the Democrat nominee again, that could be a really important demographic given just how close the 2020 election was.

REICHARD: Carolina Lumetta is a politics reporter based in Washington, DC, Carolina. Thanks for your time.

LUMETTA: Thanks, Mary.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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