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June 22, 2024

Chris Honoré: Conduct without conscience

Donald Trump
Donald Trump is flanked by attorneys at his April arraignment in Manhattan, a case related to hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels. His latest indictment is tied to his efforts to overturn his 2000 presidential election defeat. Voice of America screen grab
August 8, 2023

Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election took us within a whisper of losing our democracy

By Chris Honoré

It was an unprecedented moment in our history. Former President Donald J. Trump grimly stood before a federal magistrate judge in a Washington courtroom, facing a four-count indictment that alleged the following: criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States of America through dishonesty and deceit while obstructing an official government function (collecting, counting and certifying the 2020 election). In addition, the indictment asserted a civil rights conspiracy for plotting to subvert the will of the voters.

Chris Honoré:
Chris Honoré

Since the results of the 2020 election were announced, Trump has sought to nullify the results and thereby hold onto power. His oft repeated rationale has been that the U.S. voting system was fraudulent and corrupt and thereby constituted what amounted to a stolen election (the big steal). This assertion, embraced by millions of his followers, was made manifest when he directed his allies to launch 62 legal challenges in seven battleground states where Joe Biden had been declared the winner. With the exception of one state, the courts rejected all of the election challenges.

But despite Trump’s legal failures, and the overwhelming evidence that resulted from countless investigations and recounts that found an absence of fraud, Trump continued to assert that the election involved criminal deception and irregularities and was clearly determinative of fraud.

And now, in response to the most recent indictment, Trump and his lawyers have strenuously argued that Trump’s assertions, however vitriolic, were protected political speech as defined by the First Amendment, which states unequivocally that “Congress shall make no law … abridging freedom of speech,” even if it is evident that he is lying to the public, which is not a crime. Special prosecutor Jack Smith even cedes in the indictment, anticipating the Trump and his followers would argue that he is “criminalizing the First Amendment.”

The question begged, and the distinction ignored by Trump et al., is did he act on his beliefs? The answer, as explicated in the four-count indictment, is that, in concert with his co-conspirators, he did. And therein is the rub. Those actions were deemed criminal and well beyond protected free political speech.

There is no better example of such criminal behavior than the seditious scheme, directed by Trump and plotted by his allies, to create a Republican cohort of fraudulent electors in the seven battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The plan was to have those people sign fake certificates of ascertainment declaring Trump won the state and not Biden. Those signed certificates would be sent to Washington on Jan. 6. The scheme would be futile unless Vice President Mike Pence, who oversaw the largely ceremonial count, would agree to throw out Biden’s electoral ballots while substituting the bogus electoral votes for Trump.

Pence refused, insisting during a contentious conversation with Trump that he did not possess the constitutional authority and would not comply. Trump replied, “You’re too honest,” and the Jan. 6 mob chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”

Another example of Trump taking criminal action was his threatening phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump demanded that he find for him the nonexistent “11,780 votes” he needed to beat Biden in the state. Raffensperger refused.

It has also been reported that Trump contacted the U.S. Department of Justice and pressed the department to open an investigation into the 2020 election, insisting it build a case that would reveal voter fraud. The Justice Department pushed back.

All of Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election using both protected speech and criminal actions ultimately led to Trump calling for MAGAs to come to Washington (“will be wild!”) and then inciting them to march on the nation’s Capitol. His intent was to join the insurrectionists and participate in what proved to be a violent occupation of the Capitol.

Most analysts, to include the members of the Jan. 6 committee, agree that on that day we came within a whisper of losing our democracy while jeopardizing the peaceful transfer of power.

Email Ashland resident Chris Honoré at honore307@gmail.com.

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Jim

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