Former President Donald Trump’s legal problems went from bad to worse when, on Tuesday, August 1, special counsel Jack Smith announced that the former president had been indicted on four criminal charges in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
Trump has been charged with: (1) conspiracy to obstruct an official government proceeding, (2) conspiracy to defraud the United States, (3) conspiracy against Americans’ constitutional rights, and (4) obstructing and attempting to obstruct an official government proceeding.
This is Trump’s third criminal indictment, and he will be facing a fourth if a grand jury indicts him in Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis’ investigation of Trump’s post-election activities in her state.
In a separate 40-count case, Smith has been prosecuting Trump for allegedly endangering the United States’ national security by storing classified government documents at Mar-a-Lago. And Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr., in a 34-count prosecution, accuses Trump of falsifying the Trump Organization’s business records in connection with alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.
But Smith’s new indictment takes Trump’s legal woes to a whole new level. The special counsel alleges that Trump, after losing the 2020 presidential election to now-President Joe Biden, egregiously violated federal law in order to stay in power.
In an op-ed published by the Daily Beast on August 2, former federal prosecutor Shan Wu argues that Smith has put together a damning case that shatters Trump defenders’ claims that his 1st Amendment rights are being violated.
“By basing charges on Trump’s actions to overturn the election rather than his words on January 6 and his continuing false assertions about the elections,” Wu explains, “special counsel Jack Smith also undermines Trump’s claim that he was merely exercising his First Amendment rights. The indictment skillfully counters this defense by distinguishing between Trump’s legal right to free speech versus his illegal actions.”
Wu continues, “In words likely to warm Elon Musk’s free-speech absolutist heart, the indictment states that Trump ‘had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been …. fraud during the election and that he had won.’ It also points out that Trump was entitled to challenge election results in court, but that all such efforts had been ‘uniformly unsuccessful,’ after which Trump turned to illegal tactics.”
Some of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s critics on the left have been arguing that he shouldn’t have waited so long to appoint Smith as a special counsel. Wu acknowledges that criticism in his op-ed but stresses that nonetheless, Smith has a very strong case against the former president.
“In fact, Trump lost every legal proceeding in which he challenged the election results,” Wu writes. “The special counsel’s team has swiftly put together a very strong indictment for arguably the most dangerous threat to the peaceful transfer of power in the history of our nation. But their work stands on the shoulders of the remarkable work of the January 6 Select Committee, and the fast comprehensive work by both the special counsel and the January 6 Committee again raises the question of why the investigation languished for so long before Attorney General Merrick Garland got around to appointing a special counsel.”
Read Shan Wu’s full op-ed for the Daily Beast at this link (subscription required).