View of the District of Columbia federal courthouse in Washington DC on Aug. 2, 2023. EFE/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Is Trump’s third criminal indictment the charm?

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

View of the District of Columbia federal courthouse in Washington DC on Aug. 2, 2023. EFE/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Washington, Aug 2 (EFE).- It’s not the first or second time that former President Donald Trump has been criminally charged, but rather his third criminal indictment. And this is the most serious indictment yet, with a grand jury voting to charge him with trying to subvert US democracy to remain in office.

View of the District of Columbia federal courthouse in Washington DC on Aug. 2, 2023. EFE/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Last March, Trump received the dubious honor of becoming the first former US president to face criminal charges in a case filed in New York and linked to his alleged payment of a bribe to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels regarding their affair years before.

The second indictment came in June after a Miami grand jury voted to charge him with illegally taking and retaining classified White House documents when he left office, documents that the FBI later found at his exclusive Mar-a-Lago club and residence.

While both these indictments are serious, the most anticipated one finally came on Tuesday when Trump was indicted for trying to reverse the result of the 2020 election – which he lost to Joe Biden – and encouraging his supporters to assault the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to prevent Congress from ratifying Biden’s win.

From a political point of view, this latest indictment touches on more important issues because it affects the US form of government, the nature of democracy in this country and the peaceful transfer of power, Mark C. Smith, a professor of political science and constitutional law at Cedarville University in Ohio, told EFE on Wednesday.

But from a legal point of view, this new accusation is “more complicated” and “much more difficult to prove” than the case involving the classified documents found at Trump’s mansion, he added.

The ex-president – who currently happens to be the decisive frontrunner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination – will have to appear on Thursday before a judge in the District of Columbia, where he is expected to plead not guilty as he did in the New York and Florida cases, all of which he claims to believe constitute a “witch hunt” being mounted against him.

In the most recent indictment, Trump is facing four charges: conspiring to defraud the US, which carries a maximum prison term of five years; conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, with a maximum sentence of 20 years; obstructing and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding, another 20 years; and conspiring against rights, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars.

The indictment, signed by special counsel Jack Smith, charges Trump with knowingly spreading lies that massive voter fraud occurred during the November 2020 election and that Biden’s win was illegitimate, and – moreover – devising a scheme with assorted collaborators to enlist fake election officials to declare that he won the vote in key states where he actually lost, a move that was designed to ensure his win in the Electoral College.

On Jan. 6, 2021, he lobbied then-Vice President Mike Pence – in his capacity as president of the Senate – to block the ratification of Biden’s victory in Congress.

But when it became clear that Pence was not going to cooperate with that illegal scheme, Trump incited a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol by doubling down on “false claims of voter fraud.”

Prof. Smith said that the accusation against the former president is “solid” because it is based on “a lot of evidence,” but nevertheless the challenge for the prosecution will be to prove in court that Trump knowingly lied.

This trial, like his other two pending trials, will not begin until next year, right in the middle of the 2024 election campaign, in which Trump aspires to win the presidential vote again, this time defeating Biden, who is running for reelection.

What is clear at this point is that the judicial net is tightening around Trump but, so far, this has not diminished his popularity among most Republicans, given that he remains far ahead in the voter surveys for the upcoming GOP primaries in a number of states.

A poll published by The New York Times on the Monday before the indictment was announced gave Trump 54 percent support among Republican primary voters, well ahead of his closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who received just 17 percent.

Prof. Smith doubts that the former president will be able to strike a plea bargain or any other significant agreement with the Department of Justice given that, he said, there is no room in Trump’s personality for any kind of “admission of guilt,” and thus he said he views it as “possible” that Trump might wind up “in prison” and stage his campaign run from there.

US law does not prevent this and thus Trump could pursue his candidacy from prison, conceivably win the election and even be sworn in as president. In that case, he said he thinks that Trump would try to pardon himself.

Accustomed to avoiding civil lawsuits and settling those that he has not been able to avoid, it remains to be seen whether this third criminal indictment will derail Trump’s political career or, paradoxically, catapult him back into the White House.