The Latest Trump Indictment Is the One That Really Counts

The Latest Trump Indictment Is the One That Really Counts

The Latest Trump Indictment Is the One That Really Counts

Special prosecutor Jack Smith charged the disgraced ex-president with multiple counts of conspiracy leading up to the January 6 insurrection. Republicans can’t keep making excuses for him anymore.


Minutes after special counsel Jack Smith’s team delivered the latest round of indictments against Donald J. Trump, detailing his criminal role in the events leading up to January 6, the disgraced ex-president’s campaign team compared the prosecution to the actions of Nazi Germany. It was a particularly inane comparison, designed to stir up a blood-curdling rage among The Donald’s cultist followers, and to intimidate any wavering GOP politicians who might be tempted to jump ship and say something—anything—even mildly critical of their 2024 presidential front-runner.

Let’s be clear: Trump, who is to appear in a federal court in D.C. on Thursday to answer to the charges, was indicted not at the whim of a dictatorship but after more than two years of precise, deliberate investigations, culminating in a determination by a grand jury—the bedrock institution of American justice—that he should be charged with criminal offenses. After failing to concede the 2020 election and triggering the biggest crisis to face America’s governing institutions since the Civil War, Trump isn’t facing a show trial but rather a jury of his peers—and then only after he has exhausted all legal avenues to delay the trial. Contrary to his bluster, he won’t even be prevented from running for the presidency while he is on trial. If he is ultimately convicted, the ex-president most certainly won’t be summarily executed, or tortured, or marched off to a concentration camp for domestic political prisoners—all of which were likely endpoints for German politicians who ran afoul of Hitler’s regime.

But the Trump team has never been concerned with the accuracy of their statements. They’ve long recognized the power of the Big Lie, the propagandistic value of the political attentat. In fact, a large part of the reason Trump is in such a heap of legal trouble is that he had to ratchet it up, day by day, sometimes minute by minute, and amplify one lie after the next to keep his followers on board and primed with enough outrage to answer the call to violence in the two months between his losing the election and triggering an insurrection.

According to the 45-page indictment, unveiled late afternoon Tuesday, Trump is being charged on multiple counts of conspiracy relating to attempting to defraud the United States, obstructing official proceedings, and depriving people of their rights. Jack Smith’s team has backed up the conclusions reached by the congressional hearings into the events between the election of 2020 and January 6, 2021, that Trump repeatedly spread what he knew to be lies about election fraud—and that he had been told these were lies by everyone from his attorney general to his national security team, from state secretaries of state to local political leaders in key swing states. Smith’s investigators have documented evidence that he, and six unnamed co-conspirators—almost certainly including Rudy Giuliani (co-conspirator number one), Sydney Powell, and John Eastman—pressured state officials and the vice president to perform illegal acts simply to keep Trump in power. They believe they can prove that he conspired to essentially deprive the more than 80 million people who voted for Biden of their right to vote, by looking for ways to discard slates of electors that went for the Democrat. The indictment also shows how Trump unleashed the mob to serve his political ends, and spent fateful hours on January 6 refusing to call that mob off when it escalated from an angry demonstration to storming the Capitol and trying to hunt down political leaders whom Trump viewed as enemies or traitors.

The report’s level of detail is stunning, at times almost cinematic. It recounts conspiracies that are diabolically precise in their identification of legal and constitutional weak spots that Trump and his cronies hoped to exploit to try to drag out the election contest and inject uncertainty into the Electoral College count and certification proceedings that in normal times are just a formality. It paints a picture of a group of people, with Trump at the epicenter, entirely willing to sabotage the essential governing systems of the US for personal gain. Think of it as Trump’s version of The Anarchist Cookbook, a series of recipes for weaponry calculated to inflict maximum carnage on public confidence in the electoral process.

The text of the indictment vividly illustrates the lengths that Trump and his odious acolytes went to subvert the democratic system. Its introduction notes:

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 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.

The crux of the charge, that which shows the sheer ugliness and vanity of Trump’s project, is that he was willing to disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans simply because his bruised ego couldn’t allow him to acknowledge that he had been defeated. There’s something Nero-esque in this portrait of a narcissistic ego run-amok.

“On the pretext of baseless fraud claims,” the indictment continues, “the Defendant pushed officials in certain states to ignore the popular vote; disenfranchise millions of voters; dismiss legitimate electors; and ultimately, cause the ascertainment of and voting by illegitimate electors in favor of the Defendant.” In Arizona and New Mexico, the conspirators allegedly conjured up lawsuits they knew to be phony in order to give enough cover to put forward fake electors. Had they not generated a lawsuit, one of these fake electors apparently mused, it “could appear treasonous for the Arizona electors to vote on Monday.” Back in D.C., Trump’s team pressured the Justice Department to make “knowingly false claims of election fraud to officials in the targeted states through a formal letter under the Acting Attorney General’s signature.” When the Justice Department’s bigwigs revolted, Trump attempted to replace the attorney general with co-conspirator number 4, a low-ranking, particularly opportunistic, department official named Jeffrey Clark who was willing to radically sabotage the department’s independence and credibility in order to push the voter fraud allegations, regardless of a total lack of evidence.

In a normal time, in a normal country, this indictment, essentially detailing how Trump attempted to carry out a uniquely American coup, would be the stake through this political vampire’s heart. It would seal his fate from here to all eternity. It would preclude him from running for dog catcher, let alone being a leading candidate for the president of the Republic. It would give every politician in Congress cover to invoke the 14th Amendment, declare Trump an insurrectionist, and prevent him from running for office again. But this isn’t a normal time in American history, and the country has long ceased being the predictable, mature democracy we like to think of ourselves as being. In such an environment, so poisoned by disinformation and the cultism of MAGA, Trump remains competitive. According to a New York Times poll released this week, he’s far and away the Republican front-runner, and, looking out beyond primary season, he’s in a statistical dead heat with Biden going into the general election.

Still, something feels different about this indictment. Mike Pence, who has twisted himself into the most unholy of contortions in recent months trying to simultaneously denounce both Trump and the indictments building against him, made his most unequivocal break yet with his erstwhile boss, not even bothering to issue a pro forma defense. “Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States,” Pence said on Tuesday. “On January 6th, Former President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution and I always will.” It’s hardly revolutionary rhetoric, but it at least showed more spine than that on display by the hapless Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor’s only response was to admit that he hadn’t read the indictment before blathering on about the weaponization of the justice system. (Apparently, the easiest way to defend Trump is to deliberately refuse to read the charges against him.)

For now, Trump’s support remains constant. I suspect, however, that over the coming months that will start to change. The ex-president will be shuttling from one court case to the next, and if today’s overheated rhetoric about Nazi Germany is an indicator of his behavior from here on out, he will dial up the nihilism rather than tone it down, aiming to provoke yet more distrust of—and violence against—the very political system that he seeks to once again control. That might well appeal to his MAGA base, and it might even carry him to the Republican nomination. But it’s hard to see how any of this will win over the moderate middle, made up of voters who rejected his attacks on democracy in 2018, 2020, and 2022, come November 2024.

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