Some argue that prosecutors could face difficulty proving criminal intent if it appears that Trump sincerely believed he had won the election. But that argument is misguided. Even if Trump believed, however implausibly, that there really had been massive voter fraud, that would establish only his motive for acting, not his intent. But a righteous motive is not a defense. Put simply, criminal acts motivated by an honest belief in the justness of one’s cause are still criminal acts.
Consider the case against O.J. Simpson — not the murder case, but the one that ultimately put him away: for armed robbery in a Las Vegas hotel room. Simpson believed that a memorabilia dealer had stolen personal items from him. So he and his co-conspirators took the items back at gunpoint.
But Simpson’s motive — his belief that the items were rightfully his — didn’t help him, and he ended up serving nine years in prison. What mattered was that he intended to, and physically did, take the items back by force, using a deadly weapon.
By the same token, even if Trump truly believed there had been election fraud — indeed, even if there had been election fraud that affected the outcome — he wasn’t entitled to unleash a mob on the Capitol, or to intimidate his vice president or Congress into violating their legal duties, or to have phony electoral certificates sent to Washington. His irrational belief that the election outcome was wrong would not negate his criminal intent.
As with Simpson’s claimed righteous state of mind, Trump’s alleged belief that “frankly, we did win this election” won’t help him, either. If Trump is shown beyond a reasonable doubt to have intended to overturn the election by illegal means — by fraud or corruption or force — he has a guilty state of mind. If Hutchinson’s testimony stands up — and it’s entirely consistent with many things we already know — any claim that Trump lacked criminal intent would be laughed out of court. [Continue reading…]