Monday, January 11, 2021

Trump’s New Criminal Problem – POLITICO

Trump’s New Criminal Problem - POLITICO

In mid-December, Trump tweeted, “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” At the Save America rally, Trump exhorted his supporters to “stop the steal,” shortly before they launched their attack. He commanded the crowd, “Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.” He made it clear: “If they do the wrong thing, we should never, ever forget that they did. Never forget.” Near the end of his address, Trump went on to remind his supporters, “The radical left knows exactly what they were doing. They are ruthless and it’s time that somebody did something about it.”

Then, the president closed his nearly 11,000-word performance saying, “So we are going to—we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and give—the Democrats are hopeless, they are never voting for anything, not even one vote but we are going to try—give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re try—going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

As a person with good lawyers and experience being investigated, Trump would undoubtedly claim these comments were nothing more than First-Amendment-protected political speech if he were charged with encouraging the mob to commit seditious conspiracy. But that might not help. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Brandenberg v Ohio, found that the government can punish inflammatory speech when it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

Trump passes the test. As his statements make clear, he brought the members of the mob to D.C. He convened them at a rally; he and others inflamed the audience with lies about a stolen election and their duty to save the country from the certification that was underway at that moment. He pointed them at the Capitol and persuaded them to “do something about it.” He offered to go with them. He had every reason to believe his rhetoric would lead to violence in the same way it did at his rally on December 12.

Trump could also have a bigger problem. If the federal murder probe into Officer Sicknick’s death determines that those responsible were incited to violence at the Save America rally just hours before, Trump could find himself charged with inciting a murder. Proving the president intended to incite the crowd to commit murder would be a long shot bordering on impossible. But the mere fact that we are discussing this remote possibility is a sad statement about the state of this presidency.

The Department of Justice, the FBI and the Capitol Police are conducting a broad and thorough investigation. The facts uncovered in that investigation—not politics, fear or favor—will determine who is prosecuted. While there is little question that Trump’s words at the rally, and those of others (Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, Jr.), incited the crowd to what the Brandenburg court called “imminent disorder,” we will have to wait on the prosecutors to assess the merits of any possible cases.

In the meantime, the images of that disorder erupting in an excruciating torrent of violence against the foundation of American democracy will repeat on an endless loop in our memories. If our democracy is to recover from that assault, all those responsible should be held accountable.

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