“You’re too honest,” Donald Trump allegedly told Mike Pence on the first day of 2021, six days before supporters of a defeated yet defiant president stormed Capitol Hill and tried to subvert the outcome of a free and fair presidential election.
That assessment of the former vice-president and his commitment to democracy is just one of the revelations in what is the third — but perhaps most explosive — indictment of Trump to come down in just the last four months.
And it comes, remarkably, with the former commander-in-chief seemingly at the height of his post-presidential powers, with polls showing him with a towering lead in the race to challenge Joe Biden for the White House.
“The defendant lost the 2020 presidential election,” special counsel Jack Smith writes in the first paragraph of the long-awaited 45-page indictment handed down late Tuesday.
“Determined to remain in power,” Trump spent the next two months systematically testing and ignoring the boundaries of America’s constitutional republic, all the while claiming to be the victim of a vast electoral ripoff.
“These claims were false, and the defendant knew they were false,” the indictment reads.
But Trump allegedly repeated them anyway “to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election.”
The charges are striking, and not only because they are levelled against a former president.
There’s four of them: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding and — strikingly — “a conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.”
Those conspiracies “built on the widespread mistrust the defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud,” the indictment alleges.
They “targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
It was that latter process that was playing out on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021, the day legions of Trump supporters marched from his defiant speech outside the White House and stormed Congress in an effort to thwart the proceedings.
They quickly turned on Pence when they learned the vice-president, who was presiding over the certification process in the Senate, would not accede to Trump’s demands that he reject Electoral College votes from six key states.
In a brief statement Tuesday in Washington, Smith said he intends to seek a speedy trial — and paid tribute to the people who tried to push the rioters back.
“The men and women of law enforcement who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 are heroes, they are patriots and they are the very best of us,” he said.
“They did not just defend a building, or the people sheltering in it. They put their lives on the line to defend who we are as a country and as a people. They defended the very institutions and principles that define the United States.”
Smith’s indictment also alleges that Trump and his officials had been warned of the risk of violence. A senior adviser told constitutional lawyer John Eastman, one of the architects of the plan, “You’re going to cause riots in the streets.”
Eastman — identified in the indictment only as “Co-Conspirator 2” — responded that “there had previously been points in the nation’s history where violence was necessary to protect the republic.”
The following day, Pence’s lawyer told Eastman that his scheme would result in a “disastrous situation” where the election might “have to be decided in the streets.”
Trump, true to form, leaked word of the impending indictment on his social media platform Truth Social, demonstrating how he plans to leverage his mounting legal woes to help his re-election bid.
He pointed to the fact it has taken 30 months for prosecutors to bring charges as evidence that the charges are politically motivated.
“Why did they wait so long? Because they wanted to put it right in the middle of my campaign,” Trump posted. “Prosecutorial Misconduct!”
A subsequent statement from his campaign described the indictment as “disgraceful and unprecedented political targeting.”
Word of the indictment Tuesday came on the heels of clear evidence that his strategy is working: polls suggest that so long as he’s in the race, Trump is essentially the only candidate with any hope of securing the nomination.
Among Republicans, he currently enjoys a staggering 37-point lead over his closest challenger, the faltering Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a new poll released Monday by Siena College and the New York Times suggests.
DeSantis managed just 17 per cent support with likely Republican primary voters to Trump’s 54 per cent. Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott and ex-VP Mike Pence all sat a distant third with three per cent each.
Perhaps more surprisingly, in surveying voters of all political stripes about the 2024 presidential election, that same poll found a dead heat between Trump and incumbent President Joe Biden, both tied at 43 per cent.
Also Tuesday, prosecutors in Michigan charged two Trump supporters, one of them a former Republican candidate for state attorney general, for allegedly accessing and tampering with voting machines after the 2020 election.
Matthew DePerno, whom Trump endorsed in last year’s bid for attorney general, is charged with undue possession of a voting machine and conspiracy, while former Republican state representative Daire Rendon faces charges of conspiracy to commit undue possession of a voting machine and false pretences.