Trump election overturn attempts were ‘aspirational’ not criminal, his lawyer says

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An attorney for former president Donald Trump said on Sunday that he will argue that Trump’s failed attempt to cling to power after the 2020 election was “aspirational” and not criminal.

John Lauro, who is defending Trump against four felony charges related to attempts to throw out President Biden’s 2020 victory, said Trump’s pressure campaign against then-Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and state officials was speech protected by the First Amendment.

Trump’s attempts included asking Pence to throw out slates of electors and pause the election certification process, and demanding that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” enough votes to flip the state’s electoral slate from Biden to Trump. In spite of his unsuccessful efforts, no crime was committed, Lauro contended.

“When it comes to political speech,” Lauro said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “you can not only advocate for a position, but you can take action, you can petition, you can ask even your vice president to pause the vote.”

“Asking is aspirational. Asking is not action. It’s core free speech,” he added.

Pence said on CNN that he had “no plans to testify” but would comply with a subpoena.

On CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Pence said he would not prejudge the outcome of the trial. “I don’t know whether the government has the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to support this case,” he said.

Lauro said he welcomed the opportunity to cross-examine Pence at trial.

“The vice president will be our best witness,” Lauro said on “Face the Nation.”

A federal grand jury on Tuesday charged Trump with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy to deprive voters of their rights. Trump pleaded not guilty on Thursday to the charges in federal court in D.C.

Read the full indictment against Donald Trump

If convicted on all four counts, Trump faces a maximum of 55 years in prison, though a former president’s lifetime guarantee of Secret Service protection makes the prospect of incarceration extremely difficult.

On Sunday morning, Trump said on social media that Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia should recuse herself from the case, calling for the trial to be moved because voters in the District went heavily for Biden in 2020.

Trump’s legal team has touted West Virginia, which Trump won by nearly 40 percentage points in 2020, as a more favorable venue.

Other Jan. 6 defendants have asked for venue changes away from the District. None have been successful.

Lauro called the latest criminal indictment against Trump, brought by special counsel Jack Smith, “the most important civil rights constitutional case in decades.”

According to Lauro, Trump pressed his case on the advice of counsel, particularly John Eastman, who crafted a legal strategy that involved creating slates of pro-Trump electors in states that Joe Biden won. Eastman’s lawyer has confirmed that he is one of the six unnamed co-conspirators in the election case.

“Mr. Trump is not a lawyer. Let’s understand that. He’s a political leader and a businessman,” Lauro said on ABC’s “This Week.” “What Mr. Eastman was saying, as an attorney, is that there is a constitutional pathway to making this ask.”

Here are the Trump co-conspirators described in the DOJ indictment

Trump also faces other indictments, including a separate criminal trial in federal court in Miami involving allegations that he mishandled classified records and conspired to obstruct justice. He was also charged in a state court in New York for falsifying business records.

And Fani Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County, Ga., is close to concluding an investigation into Trump’s actions in trying to overturn the results of the 2020 vote in that state, which may include fresh charges.

The latest case is quickly escalating into a war of words. Over the weekend, government prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers went through a back-and-forth of legal motions over evidence discovery.

Trump has increasingly lashed out at Smith and indicated a willingness to retaliate against witnesses who testify for the prosecution. “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” he posted Friday on his Truth Social account.

In remarks at a rally in South Carolina on Saturday night, Trump again verbally attacked Smith as “mentally ill” and “deranged.”

Citing Trump’s threatening social media posts, prosecutors asked Chutkan to impose a protective order on the former president and his legal team, prohibiting them from remarking about certain evidence publicly.

Lauro said Sunday that he would fight that proposed order.

“The press and the American people in a campaign season have a right to know what the evidence is in this case, provided that this evidence is not protected otherwise,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Prosecutors cite Trump’s social media posts as they seek limits on handling of evidence

New polling data shows that more than half the country — 51 percent of Americans — believes Trump tried to remain in office beyond his term through illegal and unconstitutional means, according to a survey conducted by CBS News and YouGov.

But an even larger majority of Americans, 59 percent, believe the indictments and investigations of Trump are designed to stop the former president’s campaign. Fifty-seven percent said the investigations and indictments were “upholding the rule of law,” and 52 percent said they were “defending democracy.”

Asked on “Face the Nation” if there were any conditions under which Trump would accept a plea deal on Jan. 6 charges, Lauro responded with a single word: “No.”

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