Prosecutors Intend to Show Long Pattern of Threats and Baseless Claims by Trump
"In a court filing, federal prosecutors laid out plans to use the former president’s trial on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election to show a yearslong history of using lies and intimidation.
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When former President Donald J. Trump goes on trial on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election, federal prosecutors intend to tell a sweeping story, informing the jury about everything from his support for the far-right Proud Boys to his decade-long history of making baseless claims about election fraud, according to court papers unsealed on Tuesday.
The prosecutors said in the papers that they also planned to offer evidence about how Mr. Trump and his allies had threatened his adversaries over the years and encouraged violence against them. And they indicated that they intended to tie Mr. Trump more closely to the violence that erupted at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, than the indictment in the case initially suggested.
Moreover, the prosecutors said they planned to demonstrate how the former president had continued to display “steadfast support” for the people involved in the events of Jan. 6 — among them, Enrique Tarrio, the former leader of the Proud Boys, and a group of inmates at the District of Columbia jail who call themselves the “Jan. 6 Choir.”
“The defendant’s embrace of Jan. 6 rioters is evidence of his intent during the charged conspiracies, because it shows that these individuals acted as he directed them to act,” the prosecutors wrote. “Indeed, this evidence shows that the rioters’ disruption of the certification proceeding is exactly what the defendant intended on Jan. 6.”
The court papers, originally filed under seal on Monday night in Federal District Court in Washington, contained an array of allegations against the former president that prosecutors working for the special counsel Jack Smith want to introduce at the election interference trial even though they technically fall outside the span of the conspiracy charges Mr. Trump is facing.
Takeaways From Trump’s Indictment in the 2020 Election Inquiry
Under the federal rules of evidence, prosecutors are permitted to introduce proof at trial that either predates or postdates the scope of an indictment if it can help them prove a defendant’s motive or intent to a jury.
The election subversion indictment accuses Mr. Trump of three overlapping conspiracies, reaching from around Election Day 2020 to the day the Capitol was attacked. They include illegally seeking to reverse his loss to President Biden, to deprive millions of people of their right to have their vote counted and to disrupt the lawful transfer of power.
But the papers unsealed on Tuesday with a handful of redactions suggest that prosecutors want to tell the jury a far broader story. That narrative encompasses what they describe as Mr. Trump’s expansive history of using lies, acts of retaliation and threats of violence to get what he wants.
The prosecutors, for instance, told Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing the case, that they planned to show the jury a Twitter post that Mr. Trump wrote in November 2012. The message, they said, made “baseless claims” that voting machines had switched votes from Mitt Romney, who was then the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, to President Barack Obama.
They also want to tell the jury about Mr. Trump’s repeated claims during his 2016 presidential campaign that the election had been — or was going to be — marred by “widespread voter fraud.”
In a similar fashion, the papers said that Mr. Smith’s team intended to mention occasions on which Mr. Trump “refused to commit to a peaceful transition of presidential power if he lost the election.” They cited a news conference in September 2020 where Mr. Trump, when asked if he would step down in defeat, said, “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.”
Prosecutors said they planned to offer evidence that an employee of Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign “encouraged rioting” at a vote counting center in Detroit after he learned that the results were “trending in favor” of Mr. Biden. Around the same time, the court papers said, a crowd of people broke into the center “and began making illegitimate and aggressive challenges to the vote count.”
Mr. Trump’s “endorsement and encouragement of violence” will also be part of the broader trial story, according to the papers.
For example, prosecutors want to tell the jury about Mr. Trump’s remark at a presidential debate with Mr. Biden in September 2020 when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” The far-right group ultimately played a leading role in the Capitol attack, breaching barricades and assaulting the police, and four of its members, including Mr. Tarrio, wound up convicted on charges of seditious conspiracy.
Prosecutors also want to tell the jury how during an appearance on “Meet the Press” just three months ago, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Tarrio, who was sentenced to 22 years in prison, and other Jan. 6 defendants “have been treated horribly.” Moreover, they want to mention Mr. Trump’s continuing support for the so-called jailhouse choir, many of whose members, prosecutors pointed out, “were so violent” on Jan. 6 “that their pretrial release would pose a danger to the public.”
Mr. Trump’s legal team will have a chance to contest whether Mr. Smith’s prosecutors should be allowed to offer all of this evidence during the trial. Judge Chutkan will ultimately make decisions about what should be admitted.
The government’s filing was the latest set of court papers to lay out a road map for what the election interference trial might look like. The proceeding is currently set to start in early March.
Last week, Mr. Trump’s lawyers filed papers suggesting that they plan to use the trial to attack the “deep state” and question the findings of several government agencies that the election had been conducted fairly.