By Kenneth Tiven
The Trump conspiracy indictment is a near perfect outline for a crime thriller movie as it details exactly what the former US president did trying to retain his office despite losing to Joe Biden in 2020. The federal indictment describes a massive amount of evidence—a debris field as radioactive as if it came from a nuclear explosion—that was created by Trump and his lawyers. The Justice Department team led by prosecutor Jack Smith has painstakingly reconstructed Trump’s every day and every conversation that relates to the case, material from every failed Trump lawsuit at state level and his excessive tweets are included along with sworn testimony from the people involved, all of whom are Republicans.
The six co-conspirators, especially Rudy Giuliani, figure prominently. They remain uncharged for now, having been left out to focus the case on Trump by avoiding complications from too many defendants at one time. Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows appears only twice, suggesting that he has become a cooperating witness for the government to save himself from possible prosecution. This indictment’s approach is enhanced by the enormous amount of electronic and digital information that can be pulled together, sifted and sorted into a database. It demonstrates how easily a conspiracy will go awry when hundreds of people with dishonest motives are ultimately involved.
Paragraph 2: Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power. So for more than two months following election day on November 3, 2020, the Defendant spread lies that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won. These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false. But the Defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway—to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election.
Para 3: The Defendant had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud during the election and that he had won. He was also entitled to formally challenge the results of the election through lawful and appropriate means, such as by seeking recounts or audits of the popular vote in states or filing lawsuits challenging ballots and procedures. Indeed, in many cases, the Defendant did pursue these methods of contesting the election results. His efforts to change the outcome in any state through recounts, audits, or legal challenges were uniformly unsuccessful.
There are four counts of conspiracy:
Para 6: From on or about November 14, 2020, through on or about January 20, 2021, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the Defendant, DONALD J. TRUMP, did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with co-conspirators, known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to defraud the United States by using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit to impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful federal government function by which the results of the presidential election are collected, counted, and certified by the federal government.
Para 10e: After it became public on the afternoon of January 6 that the Vice President would not fraudulently alter the election results, a large and angry crowd—including many individuals whom the Defendant had deceived into believing the Vice President could and might change the election results—violently attacked the Capitol and halted the proceeding. As violence ensued, the Defendant and co-conspirators exploited the disruption by redoubling efforts to levy false claims of election fraud and convince Members of Congress to further delay the certification based on those claims.
Para 11: The Defendant, his co-conspirators, and their agents made knowingly false claims that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the 2020 presidential election. These prolific lies about election fraud included dozens of specific claims that there had been substantial fraud in certain states, such as that large numbers of dead, non-resident, non-citizen, or otherwise ineligible voters had cast ballots, or that voting machines had changed votes for the Defendant to votes for Biden. These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false. In fact, the Defendant was notified repeatedly that his claims were untrue—often by the people on whom he relied for candid advice on important matters, and who were best positioned to know the facts—and he deliberately disregarded the truth.
Para 11 f & g: Senior staffers on the Defendant’s 2020 re-election campaign (“Defendant’s Campaign” or “Campaign”)—whose sole mission was the Defendant’s re-election—told the Defendant on November 7, 2020, that he had only a five to ten percent chance of prevailing in the election, and that success was contingent on the Defendant winning ongoing vote counts or litigation in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. Within a week of that assessment, the Defendant lost in Arizona—meaning he had lost the election.
Para 12: The Defendant’s knowingly false statements were integral to his criminal plans to defeat the federal government function, obstruct the certification, and interfere with others right to vote and have their votes counted. He made these knowingly false claims throughout the post-election time period, including those below that he made immediately before the attack on the Capitol on January 6.
12a: 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.
12b. 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.
12c. The Defendant said that there had been a suspicious vote dump in Detroit, Michigan. The Defendant’s Attorney General had explained to the Defendant that this was false, and the Defendant’s allies in the Michigan state legislature—the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Majority Leader of the Senate—had publicly announced that there was no evidence of substantial fraud in the state.
12d. The Defendant claimed that there had been tens of thousands of double votes and other fraud in Nevada. The Nevada Secretary of State had previously rebutted the Defendant’s fraud claims by publicly posting a “Facts vs. Myths” document explaining that Nevada judges had reviewed and rejected them, and the Nevada Supreme Court had rendered a decision denying such claims.
12e The Defendant said that more than 30,000 non-citizens had voted in Arizona. The Defendant’s own Campaign Manager had explained to him that such claims were false, and the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, who had supported the Defendant in the election, had issued a public statement that there was no evidence of substantial fraud in Arizona.
12f. The Defendant asserted that voting machines in various contested states had switched votes from the Defendant to Biden. The Defendant’s Attorney General, Acting Attorney General, and Acting Deputy Attorney General all had explained to him that this was false, and numerous recounts and audits had confirmed the accuracy of voting machines.
Para 15b The Defendant and Co-Conspirator 1 asked the Arizona House Speaker to call the legislature into session to hold a hearing based on their claims of election fraud. The Arizona House Speaker refused, stating that doing so would require a two-thirds vote of its members, and he would not allow it without actual evidence of fraud.
Para 16 Co-Conspirator 1 (Giuliani) responded with words to the effect of, “We don’t have the evidence, but we have lots of theories.”
In every state where he demanded changes, officials explained to him that there was proof of fraud. Trump sent Mark Meadows to Georgia to observe mail in ballot counting.
Para 28 (Meadows) notified the Defendant that state election officials were “conducting themselves in an exemplary fashion” and would find fraud if it existed, the Defendant tweeted that the Georgia officials administering the signature verification process were trying to hide evidence of election fraud and were “terrible people!”
Para 33 On January 6, the Defendant publicly repeated the knowingly false insinuation that more than 10,300 dead people had voted in Georgia.
Para 40 On December 14—the day that electors in states across the country were required to vote and submit their votes to Congress—the Michigan House Speaker and Michigan Senate Majority Leader announced that, contrary to the Defendant’s requests, they would not decertify the legitimate election results or electors in Michigan… The Michigan House Speaker’s public statement read, in part: “We’ve diligently examined these reports of fraud to the best of our ability… I fought hard for President Trump. Nobody wanted him to win more than me. I think he’s done an incredible job. But I love our republic, too. I can’t fathom risking our norms, traditions and institutions… And that’s why there is not enough support in the House to cast a new slate of electors. I fear we’d lose our country forever. This truly would bring mutually assured destruction for every future election in regards to the Electoral College. And I can’t stand for that. I won’t.”
Para 58 The next day, on December 8, Co-Conspirator 5 called the Arizona attorney on Co-Conspirator 6’s list. In an email after the call, the Arizona attorney recounted his conversation with Co-Conspirator 5 as follows: …His idea is basically that all of us have our electors send in their votes (even though the votes aren’t legal under federal law – because they’re not signed by the Governor); so that members of Congress can fight about whether they should be counted on January 6. (They could potentially argue that they’re not bound by federal law because they’re Congress and make the law, etc.) Kind of wild/creative – I’m happy to discuss. My comment to him was that I guess there’s no harm in it, (legally at least) – i.e. we would just be sending in “fake” electoral votes to Pence so that “someone” in Congress can make an objection when they start counting votes, and start arguing that the “fake” votes should be counted.
Para 61 When the Defendant’s electors expressed concern about signing certificates representing themselves as legitimate electors, Co-Conspirator 1 falsely assured them that their certificates would be used only if the Defendant succeeded in litigation.
Para 66 On the same day, at the direction of the Defendant and Co-Conspirator 1, fraudulent electors convened sham proceedings in the seven targeted states to cast fraudulent electoral ballots in favor of the Defendant. In some states, in order to satisfy legal requirements set forth for legitimate electors under state law, state officials were enlisted to provide the fraudulent electors access to state capitol buildings so that they could gather and vote there.
Para 72 On December 26, Co-Conspirator 4 spoke on the phone with the Acting Attorney General and lied about the circumstances of his meeting with the Defendant at the White House, falsely claiming that the meeting had been unplanned. The Acting Attorney General directed Co-Conspirator 4 not to have unauthorized contacts with the White House again, and Co-Conspirator 4 said he would not.
Para 74. When the Acting Attorney General told the Defendant that the Justice Department could not and would not change the outcome of the election, the Defendant responded, “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
Para 90 On several private phone calls in late December and early January, the Defendant repeated knowingly false claims of election fraud and directly pressured the Vice President to use his ceremonial role at the certification proceeding on January 6 to fraudulently overturn the results of the election, and the Vice President resisted, including: In response, the Defendant told the Vice President, “You’re too honest.” Within hours of the conversation, the Defendant reminded his supporters to meet in Washington before the certification proceeding, tweeting, “The BIG Protest Rally in Washington, D.C., will take place at 11.00 A.M. on January 6th. Locational details to follow. StopTheSteal!”
Para 99. That night, the Defendant approved and caused the Defendant’s Campaign to issue a public statement that the Defendant knew, from his meeting with the Vice President only hours earlier, was false: “The Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.”
Para 110 When advisors urged the Defendant to issue a calming message aimed at the rioters, the Defendant refused, instead repeatedly remarking that the people at the Capitol were angry because the election had been stolen.
Para 114 The Defendant repeatedly refused to approve a message directing rioters to leave the Capitol, as urged by his most senior advisors—including the White House Counsel, a Deputy White House Counsel, the Chief of Staff, a Deputy Chief of Staff, and a Senior Advisor. Instead, the Defendant issued two Tweets that did not ask rioters to leave the Capitol but instead falsely suggested that the crowd at the Capitol was being peaceful, including: At 2:38 p.m., “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
FATE OF CO-CONSPIRATORS
While six co-conspirators were named, they are not yet charged. Their names do not appear but five of the six descriptions match attorneys Rudolph Giuliani, John Eastman, Ms Sidney Powell, Kenneth Cheseboro, and Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. The sixth is described as a political consultant. Conspiracy to defraud the US government is a catchall crime covering any scheme between two or more people to break federal law or defraud the federal government. Conspiracies don’t need to be successful to be criminal, and perpetrators can be held responsible if they join the conspiracy at any stage.
Justice Department special prosecutor Jack Smith says he wants a speedy trial in federal court in Washington. Combined with the other state and federal legal cases, this logically will hamper Trump’s re-election campaign. Or maybe not, as his hardcore supporters insist it’s an unfair prosecution, despite evidence that supports the charges.
Trump, uncharacteristically, was not quick on his social network platform to condemn Smith with the claim this is just a witch-hunt by the Justice Department. His first post-indictment campaign email was moderate in tone. However, Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman characterized the indictment as an attempt to interfere in the next presidential election, saying, “Why did they wait 21⁄2 years to bring these fake charges, right in the middle of President Trump’s winning campaign for 2024?”
Trump supporters will continue to rage, but will get out of hand? No one has a firm idea, but perhaps the severe sentences handed down to people convicted for the January 6 attack on the US Capitol may be a deterrent to mass street violence. Arguments that President Biden or Attorney General Garland pushed for this prosecution of Trump is a serious distortion of the public record. The two seemed reluctant for most of the first two years of the administration to investigate Trump.
It appears that the House Select Committee’s January 6 hearings earlier this year produced substantial credible evidence with this material given to the Justice Department to consider. Additionally public perceptions shifted, and this pushed the Department of Justice to bring in Jack Smith, a veteran prosecutor with a reputation for fast thorough work.
Court cases will be quite different from the two Congressional impeachment trials that failed to convict Trump for malfeasance as president. “For a former chief executive to be charged with a violation of not just a federal law, but a federal law about the exercise of federal rights, is astonishing,” said Frederick M Lawrence. He is a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan and the author of Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law. He added that, “we can’t lose the ability to be shocked by this case.” For voters who found his rhetoric crude, there is “Trump Fatigue”. In contrast his most avid supporters are emboldened as Trump increases his lies, divisiveness, and dystopian rhetoric.
Journalist Dan Rather, who covered President Nixon’s 1974 resignation in the Watergate Burglary scandal, said this about Trump’s situation: “It is also part of a more sweeping historic and political indictment of our times. For Trump couldn’t have done this alone. Today represents an indictment of all who validated his vile indulgences, whitewashed his wantonness, disguised his depravity, legitimized his lawlessness, and acquiesced to his autocracy”
India Legal’s coverage of Trump’s election in 2016 pointed out the danger of a man with absolutely no experience of consensus management working in a leadership position in government, noting that his entire adult life was lived as the Bully Boss.
Rather adds that, “Trump is not the only one facing trial. We all are. What kind of country will we have? How much are we willing to fight for our ideals? Our future?” That could be in the hands of a man with a name as unthreatening as Jack Smith.
—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels