Author: Peter Baker, Chief White House correspondent The New York Times

Not since the framers emerged from Independence Hall on that clear, cool day in Philadelphia 236 years ago has any president who was voted out of office been accused of plotting to hold onto power in an elaborate scheme of deception and intimidation that would lead to violence in the halls of Congress.

At the core of the United States of America v. Donald J. Trump is no less than the viability of the system constructed during that summer in Philadelphia. Can a sitting president spread lies about an election and try to employ the authority of the government to overturn the will of the voters without consequence?

In effect, Jack Smith, the special counsel who brought the case, charged Mr. Trump with one of the most sensational frauds in the history of the United States, one “fueled by lies” and animated by the basest of motives, the thirst for power. In a 45-page, four-count indictment, Mr. Smith dispensed with the notion that Mr. Trump believed his claims of election fraud. “The defendant knew that they were false,” it said, and made them anyway to “create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger and erode public faith in the administration of the election.”

The indictment portrayed an attack on American democracy. Smith framed his case against Trump as one that cuts to a key function of democracy: the peaceful transfer of power. By underscoring this theme, Smith cast his effort as an effort not just to hold Trump accountable but also to defend the very core of democracy.

Trump was placed at the center of the conspiracy charges. Smith put Trump at the heart of three conspiracies that culminated on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to obstruct Congress’s role in ratifying the Electoral College outcome. The special counsel argued that Trump knew that his claims about a stolen election were false, a point that, if proved, could be important to convincing a jury to convict him.

Trump didn’t do it alone. The indictment lists six co-conspirators without naming or indicting them. Based on the descriptions provided, they match the profiles of Trump lawyers and advisers who were willing to argue increasingly outlandish conspiracy and legal theories to keep him in power. It’s unclear whether these co-conspirators will be indicted.

The most essential facts of the case are not in dispute, nor did he deny any of the assertions made in the indictment. The question is whether the facts add up to crimes as alleged by a federal grand jury at Mr. Smith’s behest. Just as no president ever tried to reverse his defeat at the ballot box before, no prosecutor has brought charges for doing so, meaning there is no precedent for applying the statutes on the books to such a circumstance.

The special counsel, Jack Smith, said the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was “fueled by lies — lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government.

Mr. Trump’s defenders argue that he had good-faith reasons for contesting the election results in multiple states and that he did nothing more than pursue his legitimate, legal options. But as the indictment methodically documented, Mr. Trump was told over and over again by his own advisers, allies and administration officials that the allegations he was making were not true, yet he publicly continued to make them, sometimes just hours later. He was told they were not true by not one but two attorneys general,  multiple other Justice Department officials and the government’s election security chief— all his appointees. He was told by his own vice president, campaign officials and the investigators they hired.. He was told by Republican governors and secretaries of state and legislators.

Despite all that, Mr. Trump has never backed down in the two and a half years since, even as assertion after assertion has been debunked. Not a single independent authority who was not allied with or paid by Mr. Trump — no judge, no prosecutor, no election agency, no governor — has ever validated any substantial election fraud that would have come close to reversing the results in any of the battleground states, much less the three or four that would have been necessary to change the winner.

The one who tried to defraud the United States, Mr. Smith charged, was Mr. Trump, with bogus claims that he knew or had every reason to know were bogus, all in a bid for power.


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