Donald Trump's Jan. 6 indictment: Too late for justice?

Trump may now be given absolution for his crimes by the free and fair electoral system he has demeaned and degraded

By Heather Digby Parton


Published August 2, 2023 9:28AM (EDT)

Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and John Eastman (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and John Eastman (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly said that the electoral process was rigged. After losing the Iowa primary caucus he declared that Sen. Ted Cruz had stolen it and tweeted, "based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified." That was just the beginning. Throughout the general election campaign, he refused to say if he would accept the results, even in a televised presidential debate in October. He finally told his followers that he would accept the vote count — but only if he won — and they responded with rapturous adulation. Even when he won the Electoral College he refused to accept the popular vote results and formed a commission to prove that the numbers were fraudulent. (It came up empty, of course.)

So, it was no surprise that he spent most of the 2020 election casting aspersions on mail-in voting and planting the suspicion that the election was going to be stolen from him.

It's not like he kept it a secret. We always knew he would never accept the results of an election unless he was the victor. So when he came before the cameras in the wee hours after election day 2020, as the votes were still being counted, and declared that there was something wrong with the election and that he won in a landslide, it was almost anti-climactic. What followed, however, was anything but predictable.

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We knew Trump would whine and cry and declare the election was rigged but I don't think anyone knew how far he would go to manipulate the system and break the law to stay in office anyway.

Donald Trump is under indictment for trying to steal an election but he may very well be given absolution for his crimes by the free and fair electoral system he has demeaned and degraded ever since he entered politics.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump was finally indicted by the special counsel investigating the January 6 insurrection on four felony charges: obstruction of an official proceeding (the certification of the presidential election on January 6), conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy to deny voting rights.

If you wonder what the significance of this indictment might be in contrast to the other cases pending in various venues throughout the country, former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal told MSNBC:

This is a momentous legal event. It's the most significant legal event of our lifetimes, one of the most significant legal events ever in the history of this country. It is up there with Marbury vs Madison, Brown vs Board of Education, Dred Scott as a defining case for the times... This indictment lays out a case that a guy who was president of the United States while he was president of the US leveraged his office, used his power to thwart the will of the people in the most solemn thing they do in our country, vote... this is the biggest constitutional crime in our history.

He was the only one indicted but six unnamed co-conspirators are accused of helping him do it, five of them lawyers and one a political operative. The five lawyers are assumed to be Rudolph Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, Jeffrey Clark and Kenneth Chesebro. The identity of the political operative remains obscure.

Those of us who followed the January 6 committee hearings and read its final report are familiar with the narrative laid out in the indictment. Trump and his henchmen cooked up several different plots to pressure local Republican election officials to change the vote count in his favor, create a fake set of electors from the close swing states, have the Justice Department send out letters erroneously suggesting the feds had found fraud and then strong arm the vice president to defy the Constitution and refuse to count the legitimate electoral votes on January 6.

The indictment has a few new details, such as the fact that even after the violence, as Congress was preparing to reconvene to certify the election near midnight, one of Trump's co-conspirators emailed the vice president, saying "I implore you to consider on more relatively minor violation [of the ECA] and adjourn for 10 days to allow the legislatures to finish their investigations as well as to allow a full forensic audit of the massive amount of illegal activity that has occurred here." After the violent insurrection in which Trump's inflamed followers stormed the Capitol during a joint session and chanted "hang Mike Pence," this person (assumed to be conservative constitutional scholar John Eastman) had the audacity to beg the Pence to knowingly break the law —- but just a little bit. (That plan, incidentally, was also pushed hard by Senator Ted Cruz.)

The assumption among the TV lawyers is that the co-conspirators were not indicted in order to move the case along more quickly and that some of them may well be indicted separately or are cooperating with the investigation. Giuliani appeared on television last night to defend his honor:

To be honest, Giuliani may not even know that he cooperated. He's pretty far gone.

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There is a lot of gnashing of teeth that federal trials aren't televised and demands that someone do something about it so that the nation can watch the most important political trial in our history. That seems like an excellent idea but apparently, it would come down to a decision by Chief Justice John Roberts so I wouldn't get my hopes up. The good news is that we did have an excellent presentation of the facts and the narrative from the January 6 congressional hearings so it's not as if we are fully dependent upon the press to report them from the courtroom.

Regardless of the outcome of this trial, even if they manage to get it done before the election next year, I think we may have to face a disappointing truth. In a normal, healthy democracy a candidate in this much trouble would drop out of the race, either because of a need to focus on the legal problems, pressure from the party or perhaps even a sense of shame. None of that applies to Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination who has vowed to stay in the race no matter what. Judging by the initial commentary from the right-wing media, these charges aren't going to make a bit of a difference.

In the end, we are dealing with a great irony. Donald Trump is under indictment for trying to steal an election but he may very well be given absolution for his crimes by the free and fair electoral system he has demeaned and degraded ever since he entered politics. If that were to happen I'm afraid that the half of the country that still believes in democracy and the rule of law would be hard-pressed to keep the faith if that were to happen. What would be the point? 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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