NEW YORK — From a legal standpoint, the most important words former President Donald Trump said last week after being charged with 34 counts by the Manhattan District Attorney were “not guilty.” . But for politics, the most important were “election interference”.
By repeating those words, which have been echoed by other leading Republicans, Trump showed how he intends to turn his historic position as the first former president to be indicted for criminal offenses to his advantage. This is a new example of a practice continued during his political career: asserting without proof that the elections are rigged against him.
After his first court appearance in the case in New York, the first of several legal proceedings he faces, Trump listed the various investigations against him, calling them “enormous” attempts to interfere in the election of 2024.
“Our justice system has become anarchic,” Trump said during an event with supporters at his home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. “They are now using it, along with everything else, to win elections.”
Trump has voiced some version of those claims in at least 20 social media posts since March 3, most in the past two weeks as a Manhattan jury appeared to wrap up its case and prepare to indict the former president. .
Trump announced his new campaign for the White House shortly after the midterm elections in November, in what some people around him saw as an attempt to shut down several investigations revolving around him.
Claiming that an election is being stolen from him is a routine Trump tactic, despite the lack of evidence to back up his claims. When he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Trump blamed fraud for his loss in the Iowa caucuses When he won the White House in November but lost the popular vote , he said the only reason he fell behind in this category was that immigrants without residence permits voted. A committee he formed to find voter fraud was disbanded without finding any evidence to support his argument.
Rafael Pujols with the details.
In 2020, Trump began claiming the election would be rigged months before voting began. He has criticized efforts to ease restrictions on mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic and expanded on those claims after losing the election to claim he had indeed won. These lies led to the January 6, 2021 assault on the United States Capitol.
Federal and state officials and the Trump-appointed attorney general said there was no credible evidence the 2020 vote was compromised. The former president’s fraud allegations have also been flatly dismissed in court, including by Trump-appointed judges.
Trump is behaving like a politician in legal trouble, said Harvard political scientist Steven Levitsky.
“He’s certainly not the first politician to be sued — sometimes fairly, sometimes not — for playing the political victim card,” Levitsky said.
The political scientist, co-author of the book “How do democracies die?(“How Democracies Die”), said several former presidents of other countries claimed when sued that it was all a plot to thwart future elections. More recently, it was the complaint of former Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva after his imprisonment before the 2018 elections. Lula was freed by his country’s Supreme Court and regained the presidency in a vote in last October.
What is striking in Trump’s case, however, is that his own party is repeating allegations of stolen elections ahead of the next campaign. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said last month he had instructed party committee chairs “to investigate whether federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions”.
“For an entire party to continue in this vein is unusual,” Levitsky said.
The charges filed last week in New York stem from payments made by Trump to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen in the final days of his 2016 presidential campaign to silence porn actress Stormy Daniels, with whom he allegedly had an extramarital affair. Even some Trump critics think the charges push the boundaries of New York law.
The Manhattan case hinges on the prosecution’s claim that Trump falsified his company documents to make payments and cover up a potentially damaging story during his campaign, which they described as an illegal attempt of Trump trying to influence the election. .
The former president is also in legal trouble over other investigations, two of which relate to his attempts to interfere in the 2020 election.
Fulton County, Georgia prosecutors are investigating a January 2021 call from Trump to the state’s top election official asking him to “find” enough votes to declare Trump the winner in the state. The US Department of Justice has also opened an investigation with a special federal investigator into Trump’s attempts to reverse his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.
Rogelio Mora-Tagle was in court and explained what former President Donald Trump told the judge.
Additionally, the former president is engaged in an investigation with a special federal investigator into his handling of classified documents at his Florida property.
When Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was asked at a press conference on Tuesday whether timing to move forward on the case was a political issue, he replied that “I file cases when they are ready”.
Bragg’s office declined to comment on Trump’s remarks about “election interference,” as did the Justice Department.
Critics warn that Trump is once again sowing suspicion of fraud that could harm democracy. “We’ve seen this movie before,” Joanna Lydgate, CEO of States United Action, which monitors politicians who embrace Trump’s campaign lies, said in a statement. “We know it’s dangerous because we all saw what happened on January 6.”
Trump has consistently dismissed those warnings, embedding his legal troubles in three-year-old false accusations that his departure from the White House was due to wrongdoing by the Democratic Party.
At his first campaign rally in Waco, Texas, days before his arraignment in Manhattan, Trump railed against all investigations, saying his opponents use investigations “because it’s harder for them to stuff their heads.” ballot boxes, which they did a lot”. of.” .
“The newest weapon used by out-of-control Democrats to rig elections is to criminally investigate a candidate,” he said.
Trump and other Republicans have contradicted themselves at times, condemning the investigations as an attempt to hurt Trump while predicting they would help him return to the White House.
“I think you’re going to see his numbers go up in the polls,” New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, one of the president’s biggest supporters in the House of Representatives, told a conference last month. left last month. “He’s never been in a stronger position.” Last week he condemned the charges as “unprecedented election interference”.
Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs at Common Cause, who has long criticized Trump’s claims of election rigging, noted that all of the lawsuits against the former president began long before he began his new campaign.
“No one is above the law, not even former presidents, and running for president cannot and should not serve as a shield for misconduct,” Scherb said.
Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed to this report.
David Rodríguez and Darling Burdiez with the details.
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