WASHINGTON — Donald Trump is returning to the scene of the alleged crime.
The former president is scheduled to appear in D.C. court today to confront new charges related to his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The hearing at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse will play out just steps from Capitol Hill, where legions of Trump’s supporters stormed Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump faces four new charges: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy against rights.
Tuesday’s 45-page indictment — the third against Trump in just four months — lays out in precise detail a multi-pronged effort to prevent Joe Biden from being confirmed as U.S. president.
Trump is already facing 74 other charges, including 34 felony counts in New York tied to hush-money payments, and 40 more in Florida over classified documents he allegedly stored at his Mar-a-Lago stronghold.
So far, his legal woes appear to have done nothing but help his bid to secure the Republican nomination for president in 2024 — recent polls suggest he’s running away with the race.
The latest case, however, is the one that is likely to resonate the most on the campaign trail, given how it lays out a direct assault on U.S. democracy, said Matthew Lebo, a politics professor at Western University in London, Ont.
But while it’s theoretically possible Trump could withdraw from the race if convicted, previous experience suggests that’s not at all likely, Lebo said.
“So if he goes forward and contests primaries and collects delegates, then he’s going to be the nominee,” he said. “If he’s convicted before the election, I don’t know — I can’t imagine what that means.”
So long as he continues to enjoy the backing of a majority of Republicans in Congress, Lebo said, it’s hard to imagine him going to prison.
“I think he runs, and I think — even if he’s convicted, or is right in the middle of a trial — I think he’s still going to get 40 per cent of the vote,” he said.
“And the Republican Party will not move away from him until he decides he’s done.”
Special counsel Jack Smith used blunt language to describe the stakes when he released the indictment Tuesday.
“The attack on our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Smith said.
“It was fuelled by lies — lies by the defendant, targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government and the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
The indictment references six different alleged co-conspirators, but does not disclose their identities. Media reports and known facts point to five names, all of them central players in the effort to overturn the results.
They include Trump ally Rudy Giuliani; lawyer John Eastman, who proposed enlisting then-vice-president Mike Pence to reject Electoral College votes; and campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, who spearheaded a doomed, conspiracy-laden court challenge.
The election certification ritual 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.
Smith’s indictment also alleges that Trump and his officials had been warned of the risk of violence. A senior adviser told 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.”
For weeks, Trump has been cultivating moral support among his loyal base by framing the indictment as a politically motivated witch hunt — a drumbeat that continued Wednesday in a flurry of social media posts and fundraising pitches.
So far, it’s proven an effective strategy.
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 Pence all sat a distant third with three per cent each.
Perhaps more surprising, in surveying voters of all political stripes about the 2024 presidential election, that same poll found a dead heat between Trump and incumbent Biden, tied at 43 per cent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2023.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press