House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) this week claimed that former President Donald Trump was being prosecuted for his “thoughts” — and a CNN panel on Friday took a hatchet to this argument.
Host Phil Mattingly began by saying that McCarthy’s claims had “no basis in reality” and said it was ridiculous to compare Trump’s actions after losing the 2020 election to actions taken by former defeated Democratic nominees Hillary Clinton and Al Gore.
Panelist Errol Louis shared Mattingly’s assessment and said that it wasn’t simply Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election that got him indicted, but his effort to use those claims to strongarm officials into falsely certifying him as the winner.
“It’s not because Donald Trump kept saying at rallies he thinks he won the election or thinks the election was stolen — he can say that every day,” said Louis. “The indictment makes that clear in the first paragraph. What he cannot do is sic his lawyers on a bunch of state officials and start intimidating them and challenging facts that he already knows are not true. And to the extent that he did all of those things, that’s why he got arrested.”
Former federal prosecutor Elie Honig argued that McCarthy had inadvertently strengthened special counsel Jack Smith’s case against the former president.
“Kevin McCarthy’s comments nicely highlight the difference between what is and is not criminal,” he said. “Speech is not criminal: You can complain, you can lie. It says that in the indictment. You can say whatever you want! But when it crosses the line into conduct — into ‘Let’s round up 16 people from the state of Michigan, have them claim they are the electors and sign a form and send those forms into the Archives and the Senate and the secretary of state’ — then you have crossed the line from speech into conduct.”
‘No basis in reality’: Panel takes a hatchet to Kevin McCarthy’s Trump defense