45 pages every American should read
Hours after the release of a grand jury indictment charging former President Donald Trump with “using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit to impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful federal government function by which the results of the presidential election are collected, counted, and certified,” the former president’s amen corner responded with a familiar refrain.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy denounced the Biden Administration’s “distraction from the news” and “two-tiered system of justice.” “When you drain the swamp, the swamp fights back,” declared Rep. Jim Jordan. “President Trump did nothing wrong.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised, if elected president, to end “the politicization of the rule of law” and “the weaponization of the federal government.”
DeSantis admitted he had not read the indictment. It’s a safe bet he is not the only MAGA Republican who prefers to keep his mind unsullied by facts.
That said, every American should read the 45 pages of the DOJ indictment. A primer on American law, the U.S. Constitution, and the Electoral College, the document presents detailed, credible and compelling evidence about the attempt by President Trump and six co-conspirators to overturn a free and fair election. Equally important, the indictment gives Americans an opportunity to judge for themselves whether or not prosecuting the former president is evidence of a witch hunt, two-tiered system of justice, or weaponized federal government.
To whet appetites, here’s a brief summary:
The indictment clearly states that President Trump “had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election, and even claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud during the election and he had won.” So the charges against him concern conduct — his unlawful attempt to disenfranchise legal voters and subvert election results — and not Trump’s First Amendment right to free speech.
The indictment demonstrates that Republican state legislators, election officials, and members of the Trump Administration repeatedly and unequivocally told the president he had lost the election and systematically debunked specific claims of widespread fraud. A partial list includes the Speaker of the House in Arizona; the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader in Michigan; the Philadelphia City Commissioner; the Secretary of State in Georgia; leaders of the Department of Justice, including the Attorney General, Acting Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General; the Director of National Intelligence; the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency; White House attorneys; and senior staff on Trump’s reelection campaign.
Virtually all claims of fraud, moreover, were dismissed or rejected in no fewer than sixty court proceedings, including more than a few presided over by judges who had been appointed by Trump himself.
Nonetheless, Trump continued to insist that voting machines in several states had been programmed to switch votes to Biden; 149,772 illegal votes were dumped in “corrupt” Detroit, Michigan; 10,000 out-of-state and dead individuals voted in Georgia; 30,000 non-citizens voted in Arizona; tens of thousands double-voted in Nevada; 205,000 more votes were recorded in Pennsylvania than the number of registered voters in the state.
These false claims provided the justification for a multifaceted campaign, directed by the president and in violation of multiple federal statutes, to overturn the 2020 election. Trump and his co-conspirators pressured state legislators and election officials to delay or reject certification of the results reported by Democratic counties and to find more Trump votes. The president directed Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosento send a letter to officials in battleground states indicating that the DOJ had identified “significant concerns” (later changed to “significant irregularities”) that may have affected the outcome. When Rosen demurred, Trump said, “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.” And the president made plans to replace Rosen with a more pliable Acting Attorney General.
The plotters also attempted to supplant legitimate delegates to the Electoral College from battleground states with fraudulent slates of electors. Originally designed to be used only if litigation was successful, the scheme went forward even though the vote count had been certified by the appropriate officials and court challenges had failed. This scheme gave Trump’s allies in Congress a pretext to propose sending the allegedly disputed results back to the states on January 6. Trump also pressed Vice President Mike Pence again and again, privately and in public, to reject Electoral College votes for Biden. When Pence maintained he had no authority to do that, Trump replied, “You’re too honest.” Denounced by the president for failing to “do the right thing,” Pence narrowly escaped a mob determined to hang him on January 6, 2021.
The allegations against Trump involve an indispensable feature of American democracy, the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another. The allegations are serious and sobering. If they are true, Donald Trump’s conduct, at the very least, renders him unfit to serve as president.
But don’t take my word for it. Or the word of willfully uninformed Trump apologists in Congress, on cable TV, talk radio, and social media. Take an hour or two, read the 45-page indictment, and draw your own conclusions. The country you save may be your own.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”