An indictment handed up Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., finally gets to the heart of the matter. Then-President Donald Trump is accused of using the power of his office in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Trump already was facing criminal accusations. He has been charged in New York with paying hush money to prevent an adult actress from revealing details of their affair. And he has been accused in a federal court in Florida of illegally possessing classified documents — and ignoring orders to return them — after leaving office.
Those are serious accusations, but the charges announced this week speak to the very foundation of our democracy. They speak to the guidelines set forth 236 years ago and to the peaceful transfer of power that has been a hallmark of the unique American system of government.
“Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power …” the indictment asserts. “These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false. In fact, the Defendant was notified repeatedly that his claims were untrue — often by the people on whom he relied for candid advice on important matters, and who were best positioned to know the facts — and he deliberately disregarded the truth.”
It should be noted that dozens of judges — including many appointed by Trump — rejected claims of widespread voter fraud because there was scant evidence to support the assertions.
Following Tuesday’s four-count indictment, Trump and his supporters — including some in Congress — quickly decried it as being politically motivated. The American people should not allow those accusations to distract them from the crux of the issue: A former president has been accused of being involved in a scheme to enlist false electors for the Electoral College; of pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to prevent certification of the electoral vote; and of pressuring state officials to overturn election results.
Whether or not those accusations are politically motivated and whether or not those actions are criminal will be up to the courts. We must, as Americans who believe in the strength of our nation and our Constitution, allow the jurisprudence system to play the role initially defined by the Founding Fathers more than two centuries ago.
There seems to be strong evidence of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election — including a recorded phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump urged Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to flip the results in the state. But the criminality of that and other actions will be determined by the legal guidelines our nation has built and refined, guidelines that provide protections for defendants and define strict rules of evidence.
It is impossible to separate Tuesday’s indictment from the fact that Trump again is running for president — and is the front-runner for the Republican nomination. But such separation is necessary; if power, fame, money and obfuscation allow any American to avoid legal accountability for their actions, then we have violated the ideals that form the basis for our nation.
The thought of a former president being accused of attempting to overthrow our political system was inconceivable just a few years ago, but Tuesday’s indictment is neither a cause for celebration nor consternation. Instead, it is an opportunity to admire the rule of law that has allowed our nation to survive and thrive since its humble beginnings.