Shortcuts / 08 August 2023

Donald Trump’s third indictment

Former US President Donald Trump has been charged with serious criminal offences related to a plot to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Joe Biden. It’s Trump’s third indictment, so in this Squiz Shortcut, we get you across what the new charges are, why they’re the most significant so far, and what could happen next.

Another day, another Trump indictment…
It sure seems that way but it’s interesting that even though these charges are the most serious and consequential so far, this latest indictment felt like less of a moment.

What are these new charges?
They’re all laid out in a 45-page document written by special prosecutor Jack Smith… What it basically says is that after Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden, he was legally allowed to contest the election loss and even lie about it. But he wasn’t allowed to try to change the election results by illegal means.

And prosecutors allege that’s what he did?
Yep, they claim Trump and his legal team concocted claims of voter fraud in the swing states that decided the election and then tried to use those stories to get officials in each state to reverse the election results.

Give us an example…
So Georgia is one of those swing states that Trump narrowly lost. He’s alleged to have knowingly made false claims that 10,000 dead people had voted in the state and that a company that made electronic voting machines for Georgia had rigged them to favour Joe Biden and the Democrats.

I’ve heard this before…
It’s something Team Trump talked a lot about after the election. There was also that infamous call with Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger that was leaked to the media. During that chat, Trump repeated those false claims and asked Raffensperger – a fellow Republican – to “find” the 11,780 votes that Trump needed to win the state.

And that was illegal?
That’s what prosecutors in the indictment say. Trump is alleged to have engaged in this kind of behaviour across a number of states, which saw him charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to violate the civil rights of people to have their votes legitimately counted. But that’s not all…

Go on…
There are another 2 charges relating to 6 January 2021 – the day the federal government officially received and locked in all those votes from the states and
the day that Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol building. Trump has been charged with obstructing those proceedings and conspiracy to obstruct those proceedings for his part in trying to stop Congress from officially declaring Joe Biden the country’s next president.

What has Trump said about the charges?
He called the charges “fake” and has pleaded not guilty. We don’t know what his legal defence is yet but a lot has been said about the difficulty the prosecution will have in proving the charges.

Why’s that?
Because it all comes down to whether or not Trump actually believes his own claims. To win their case, the prosecution has to prove he knew the election wasn’t actually stolen and that he set out to undermine the democratic process.

So how many criminal charges is Trump facing now?
This latest indictment has tacked on 4 new charges to the tally, so that brings him up to 78 criminal charges across 3 cases.

What are the other charges about?
The first indictment was a case in New York related to incorrect business filings and election funding declarations after Trump tried to cover up an affair he had before the 2016 election.

And the other case?
That’s to do with Trump’s storing of classified government documents at this Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after he left office. That’s a big no-no, particularly after he told authorities he didn’t have them.

Aren’t there more charges on the way?
Yep – Trump is also being investigated in the state of Georgia for the alleged election interference we talked about earlier. That could also lead to new state criminal charges.

When do all these cases go to court?
There are a few scheduling issues but the latest indictment is the most serious case, so the prosecutor says he wants a speedy trial for that one. But pundits reckon Trump and his team will want to drag out the case until after the 2024 presidential election.

Because all these charges are actually making Trump more popular with Republican voters. Many see the charges as being politically motivated, and Trump is still the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. His team also believes that if becomes the president again, he’ll be able to shut down those criminal charges.

Can Trump even run for president again if he’s convicted?
The short answer is yes, he can. If he’s convicted before the election he might not be able to vote – but there’s nothing in the US Constitution to say that Trump can’t be president if he has a criminal record. It’s even possible that he could be elected president while in jail.

It’s hard to wrap your head around…
It’s definitely an unprecedented situation, and like a lot of things when it comes to Trump, we’re in completely uncharted waters.

Squiz recommends:

Tracking the Trump criminal casesPolitico

The Run-Up podcastThe New York Times

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