McManus: Narrow Charges Help 2020 Election Case Against Trump – News Block

We don’t know what specific charges special counsel Jack Smith will bring if former President Trump is accused of trying to overturn the 2020 election. We can’t even be sure there will be an indictment, though it seems imminent after Smith sent Trump a letter. target letter last week.

But thanks to “individuals in the know,” presumably Trump’s lawyers, we know what federal statutes are likely to form the basis of Smith’s case, and suggest what some of his charges will be.

According to several news organizations, the destination letter mentions three laws that would allow Smith to accuse Trump of running a grand conspiracy to undo the election of President Biden through fraudulent means. Alternatively, they would allow Smith to charge the former president with a limited number of wrongdoings for the same purpose.

I spoke to former prosecutors and defense attorneys last week, and they all had similar advice for Smith: Keep the case snappy, focused, and clear.

“Look for the simplest charges you can,” said former federal prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig. “Focus on stocks that are directly and directly tied to Donald Trump.”

“Keep it simple, stupid,” echoed Norman Eisen, a former defense attorney who is a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Don’t try to jam everything. You don’t want to risk confusing a judge or jury.”

Trump’s effort to block Biden’s victory included a long list of potentially illegal acts.

The then-president gawked at officials in the states he lost to declare him the winner anyway. He asked the Georgia secretary of state to “find 11,780 votes,” the number he needed to win.

Trump and his allies developed a plan to subdue false electoral records to Congress to replace Biden’s actual electoral votes.

And he encouraged his supporters to march on Capitol Hill and “fight like hell” on January 6, 2021, the day Congress was scheduled to certify Biden’s victory.

That’s a lot of potential charges, too many, possibly, for a jury to focus on. Smith’s target card suggests he’ll likely settle for a shorter roster.

Let’s take the three statutes one by one, starting with “conspiracy to defraud the United States,” which basically means attempting to interfere with the functions of the government through dishonest means.

Case in point: the bizarre “fake elector” scheme, in which Republican activists in eight states represented themselves as legitimate electors despite the fact that Biden had won a majority of the vote. The plot failed, but it was central to Trump’s broader attempt to invalidate Biden’s victory.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to convince a jury that the scheme qualified as willful fraud.

The activists declared that they were the true electors of their states in official-looking statements sent to then-Vice President Mike Pence in his role as president of the Senate. Those documents can now serve as a conviction evidence of an attempt to defraud the United States.

In addition, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel told House investigators on Jan. 6 that Trump had personally asked her to recruit “alternative voters,” evidence that the president was directly involved.

The second statute on Smith’s list prohibits obstructing federal proceedings. That would likely produce charges centered on Trump’s efforts to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s election on January 6, including his relentless pressure on Pence to stop or delay the process.

The Department of Justice has charged more than 300 of the January 6 protesters with this crime. Many of the defendants said they invaded the Capitol to try to disrupt the certification; some believed they were acting at the behest of Trump. It seems fair to subject Trump to the same scrutiny.

“It’s probably a stronger case against Trump than against the rioters,” said Donald B. Ayer, a former senior Justice Department official in the George HW Bush administration.

The third statute prohibits any conspiracy to deprive individuals of their constitutional rights, including the right to vote and to have their votes counted. It has been used to prosecute officials who tried to rig elections or interfere with the vote count.

In the opinion of some lawyers, this statute could be applied to almost any illegal action that Trump took to change the outcome of the election. The challenge for Smith will be narrowing it down to a few easily provable counts.

What is missing from this list? Incite to riot or be complicit in an insurrection.

That’s probably because those charges could be difficult to prove and become distractions at trial.

“A charge of incitement raises First Amendment issues,” Ayer said. “And an insurrection charge comes with a lot of complexities, starting with the definition of ‘insurrection.'”

That suggests Smith is already doing what former prosecutors hoped: keeping the case focused on a few charges that might be relatively easy to prove.

“There is also time pressure at work,” Rosenzweig added. “Part of the incentive to keep it simple is to do it before the presidential election.”

If the case goes before a judge who wants to act quickly, he said, “I could see this go to trial next May or June.”

That will be the end of next year’s primary election season, and around the same time trump will stand trial for hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago property. It’s going to be a busy spring.

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