This is the indictment that those who were horrified by the events of Jan. 6, 2021, have been waiting for. The catalog of misdeeds that Donald Trump is accused of is extensive, some reflected in other prosecutions over classified documents and hush-money payments or in civil lawsuits.
But this case — a sitting U.S. president’s assault on democracy — is by far the most consequential. And from the looks of this indictment, the prosecution’s case is going to be thorough and relentless.
The charging decisions in the indictment reflect smart lawyering by the special counsel Jack Smith and his team. The beauty of this indictment is that it provides three legal frameworks that prosecutors can use to tell the same fulsome story.
It will allow prosecutors to put on a compelling case that will hold Mr. Trump fully accountable for the multipronged effort to overturn the election. At the same time, it avoids legal and political pitfalls that could have delayed or derailed the prosecution.
The lead charge, conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. 371, is a go-to charge for federal prosecutors. Count 1 charges a conspiracy to defraud the United States by obstructing and defeating the lawful counting of votes and certification of the election. Conspiracy is the perfect vehicle for describing a complex criminal scheme and identifying all the actors and everything they did.
The conspiracy charge, which makes up most of the indictment, encompasses the tentacles of the scheme to overturn the election results. Pressuring state officials to overturn their elections, recruiting slates of fake electors from seven states, trying to corrupt the Justice Department to further the scheme, pressuring Mike Pence to throw out lawful votes and directing the mob to the Capitol on Jan. 6 — all are included as part of a single overarching conspiracy to defraud the United States.
A conspiracy requires two or more people who agree to participate. This indictment lists but does not yet charge or formally identify six Trump co-conspirators. Mr. Smith clearly has enough evidence to charge those unindicted co-conspirators but has chosen not to — for now. This, too, is a smart tactical decision.
Proceeding against Mr. Trump alone streamlines the case and gives Mr. Smith the best chance for a trial to be held and concluded before the 2024 presidential election. It’s possible some of the unindicted co-conspirators will cut a deal and testify for the prosecution. If not, there is plenty of time to charge them later. [Continue reading…]