On Tuesday, the Department of Justice released its second indictment of former president and 2024 candidate Donald Trump, charging him with four crimes in connection to the 2020 election and the January 6 Capitol riot.
The Details: This indictment contains four single-count charges: Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, Conspiracy to Obstruct an Official Proceeding, Obstruction of and Attempt to Obstruct an Official Proceeding, and Conspiracy Against Rights.
The DOJ alleges Trump conspired to defraud the United States "using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit to impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful federal government function by which the results of the presidential election are collected, counted, and certified by the federal government," conspired to "corruptly obstruct and impede the January 6 congressional proceeding at which the collected results of the presidential election are counted and certified," and conspired "against the right to vote and to have one's vote counted."
“This is nothing more than the latest corrupt chapter in the continued pathetic attempt by the Biden Crime Family and their weaponized Department of Justice to interfere with the 2024 Presidential Election, in which President Trump is the undisputed frontrunner, and leading by substantial margins," read a statement from the Trump campaign.
The Defense: The Trump team is expected to argue that Trump's actions were free speech and protected by the First Amendment.
"The Radical Left wants to Criminalize Free Speech!" Trump wrote on Truth Social.
Legal scholars and media voices are split on the strength of this defense. The National Review (Right bias) Editorial Board agreed with Trump's position, writing that the indictment seeks to "criminalize protected political speech." The New York Times Opinion (Left bias) Editorial Board disagreed, writing, "As much as defense lawyers are trying to frame the case as an attack on Mr. Trump’s free speech, the indictment makes clear that it was his actions after Election Day that were criminal.”
If Trump's team seeks to use this defense, he will need to prove he truly believes he won the 2020 election and was expressing this belief. Mike Pence said Trump was "surrounded by a group of crackpot lawyers that kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear."
How the Media Covered It: Left-rated voices framed this as a pivotal indictment that overshadows the previous ones. Some expressed disappointment that the indictment did not include an insurrection charge. Right-rated voices are somewhat split. Unlike the prior indictments, Trump's opponents in the Republican primary appear more apprehensive to criticize the DOJ's actions. In the media, some voices are receptive to the first amendment defense, but others are skeptical of its validity and legal strength.
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Snippets from the Left
"There will be those who say any case that does not charge Mr. Trump with insurrection or sedition is a whitewash that fails to hold him properly accountable. I think those critics are wrong. These charges will allow prosecutors to present the sweeping, multistate scheme to overturn the election, with all its different aspects, to the jury and the public. They are serious felony charges that carry hefty penalties."
"Let’s be clear: Trump, who is to appear in a federal court in D.C. on Thursday to answer to the charges, was indicted not at the whim of a dictatorship but after more than two years of precise, deliberate investigations, culminating in a determination by a grand jury—the bedrock institution of American justice—that he should be charged with criminal offenses."
Snippets from the Right
"Now, through a special counsel it appointed for this precise purpose, the Biden Justice Department is attempting to use the criminal process as a do-over for a failed impeachment. In effect, Jack Smith is endeavoring to criminalize protected political speech and flimsy legal theories — when the Supreme Court has repeatedly admonished prosecutors to refrain from creative theories to stretch penal laws to reach misconduct that Congress has not made illegal."
"Trump’s best defense against these claims is that no one should have been operating on the assumption that his nonsense was legitimate, and that his actions thus cannot constitute fraud. That could very well hold up in court. It does, however, seem like the rioters who ransacked the Capitol calling for the murder of America’s constitutional officers were not operating under such a cynical assumption."
Snippets from the Center
"The criminal case will not be Chutkan's first chance to rule on a matter involving Trump and the U.S. Capitol riot. Chutkan rejected a lawsuit brought by Trump in 2021 seeking to block the U.S. House committee investigating the attack from obtaining White House records, citing the legal doctrine of executive privilege. 'Presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president,' Chutkan wrote in her ruling, which was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court."
"Because the First Amendment is neutral when it comes to the content of the speech it defends, free speech is generally protected even if that speech is false or dishonest. So, some have argued that Tuesday's indictment lacks standing since the new charges against Trump center on the claim that he won the 2020 election."