Autogolpe in the USA
Thoughts on the indictment
Yesterday, a Washington, D.C. grand jury returned and special counsel Jack Smith unveiled a four-count indictment of former president Donald Trump for attempting to steal control of the government of the most powerful nation in the world. While the indictment is well worth reading—it includes a wealth of new and sometimes blood-boiling information—its broad outlines are consistent with the findings of the last Congress’s select committee investigating January 6th and the contemporaneous reporting of events.
In brief, the sacking of the Capitol building by a pro-Trump mob was not simply a spontaneous outburst of violence, but the ultimate result of a months-long effort to delegitimize the 2020 presidential election and the peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden that was required by its true result. Among other stratagems, Trump tried badgering state elected officials, he tried frivolous lawsuits, and he tried to persuade Mike Pence to use his ceremonial role at the certification to change the outcome. When all this effort seemed to be on the point of failing, he summoned his followers to Washington, prepared them for violent action, and set them on the march to the Capitol. The gathering of the mob and steeling it to action was an exercise of street power directed to the same result as Sidney Powell’s fatuous lawsuits, Rudy Giuliani’s deceitful tour of state legislatures, and Trump’s own infamous phone call with Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensberger.
Trump is the first American president to be indicted, the first to be indicted in state court, the first to be indicted in federal court, the first to be indicted twice, and the first to be indicted a third time. These are fitting distinctions for a president who cheated on his way up, repeatedly chose to disregard his legal duties and his oath of office, and preferred to treat the presidency as a treasure chest for himself and his family to plunder.
Trump is to all appearances a career criminal, engaging in alleged or proved financial fraud and abusive sexual misconduct on repeated, varied occasions. However, each of his indictments to date relate to his treatment of the presidency and its perks as a bauble to be possessed by any means. The indictment in New York state court relates to a hush money scheme executed on the eve of the 2016 election to keep a potentially damaging story from affecting the voting. The first federal indictment, in a federal court in Miami, concerns classified documents Trump hoarded and kept from his time in office—refusing to part with them after a year of efforts by DOJ and Archives officials to secure their voluntary return. And the third indictment, in DC, of course, deals with his corrupt effort to keep the White House, Air Force One, the de facto immunity from prosecution the presidency conferred on him, his precious pardon power, etc., despite losing his bid for reelection.
Seeing the presidency as a thing of tangible value that Trump jealously coveted isn’t necessary to sustaining Smith’s fraud charge against him under 18 USC 371. That count alleges that Trump tried to defraud the United States, and it doesn’t require that the deceit be carried out with a pecuniary object in mind; instead, the statute provides that the corrupt object may be impairing, obstructing, or defeating a lawful government function. To that end, Smith’s indictment compellingly argues that Trump sought to impair, obstruct, and defeat the federal government’s process of “collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
Nevertheless, I think it’s important to keep in mind that the case really is about something tremendously valuable. The peaceful transfer of power from an outgoing president to a newly-elected one is probably the most precious possession of the American people. Trump and his allies, as the allegations in the indictment and all the investigations and reporting that corroborate them make incredibly plain, sought to take it away from us and, necessarily, to dissolve at least that much of the republic and put control of the most powerful government on the planet exclusively in their own hands.