The federal election interference case against former President Donald Trump is coming into sharper focus as prosecutors allege he is responsible for the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and provide new clues about how they intend to prove it.
The suit, set for trial in Washington, DC in March, accuses Trump of leading a conspiracy to prevent the certification of the 2020 election and deprive millions of voters from having their ballots counted. More than 140 law enforcement officers were injured after a mob stormed the US capital on January 6, disrupting the peaceful transfer of power.
Trump’s lawyers are asking the judge to remove references to what happened that day from the four-count indictment because they could “inflame” or prejudice the jury.
“[N]”A shred of evidence indicates that President Trump incited any form of violence or asked anyone to enter the Capitol illegally,” Trump attorneys John Lauro and Todd Blanche wrote in a lawsuit this week.
Prosecutors say Trump should not be able to distance himself from the chaos. They say evidence of the attack on the Capitol is “powerful and probative” of his motive and intent.
“Indeed, that day was the culmination of the defendant’s criminal conspiracies to overturn the legitimate results of the presidential election, when the defendant directed a large and angry mob—one that he had summoned to Washington, DC, and engaged in deliberately false allegations of election fraud— to the Capitol,” senior assistant special counsels Molly Gaston and Thomas Windom wrote.
The back-and-forth over how the events of Jan. 6 will play out in the case represents an early skirmish in one of the most important and closely watched prosecutions in American history.
For the first time, the Justice Department team said it will use video evidence to show that Trump encouraged audience members at the rally to go to the Capitol starting 15 minutes into his speech. They said they will provide testimony, photos and geolocation evidence — essentially cellphone pings — to show how specific Trump supporters listened in on him, then proceeded to heavily armed police and stormed the capitol.
Prosecutors said they plan to use other testimony and videos to demonstrate how Trump deployed angry rioters as a “tool” in his pressure campaign against then-Vice President Mike Pence.
“I think one of the most substantive things he did in that time was his tweet about Mike Pence at 2:24 p.m., essentially arguing to all his followers that Mike Pence didn’t have the guts to do what had to be done and it was while he knew the Capitol was under attack, says Georgetown University Law Center professor Mary McCord, who follows the case closely.
Members of the mob eventually chanted “hang Mike Pence” and “traitor Pence” as he hid in fear for his life with family members and Secret Service agents on the Capitol grounds. Trump watched the events on television and remained “indifferent” to Pence’s evacuation, prosecutors said.
McCord, who once headed the Justice Department’s national security division, said Trump is likely to file more court papers as the lawsuit threatens to try to block prosecutors from introducing specific evidence starting Jan. 6.
Indeed, Lauro and Blanche signaled in a footnote this week that they would try to prevent jurors from hearing about acts of “extraordinarily violent and destructive” behavior. Final decisions on evidentiary issues will be up to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.
Trump’s lawyers said the former president urged the crowd to be “peaceful and patriotic.” They claimed that most of the crowd at the January 6 rally behaved peacefully.
But in their own filings, prosecutors said Trump continued to embrace members of the mob, including rioters accused of violence against law enforcement and held pending trial in the D.C. jail. Trump has said on the campaign trail that he is considering pardoning people convicted of crimes related to Jan. 6.
“The defendant’s decision to rally behind rioters on January 6 and their case is relevant to the jury’s determination of whether he intended to act on the Capitol that day,” Gaston and Windom wrote.