WASHINGTON, Nov 6 (Reuters) – Donald Trump, criminally charged by the federal government with trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat, seeks to launch a weeklong campaign to thwart certification of the vote as a plea policy of an American president alarmed by the allegations. of electoral fraud.
Trump’s defense lawyers, in a a wave of legal requestsargued that Special Counsel Jack Smith’s case “attempts to criminalize basic political speech and political advocacy.”
“President Trump and others have the right under the First Amendment to declare that the election was stolen and to advocate that members of Congress and other government officials act consistent with that view ” Trump’s lawyers wrote in a court filing.
The documents offer a first look at how Trump plans to defend himself against what prosecutors say it was a multi-pronged conspiracy to prevent the counting and certification of the results of an election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Prosecutors argued in a court filing Monday that the First Amendment does not protect “fraudulent speech” and that Trump cannot “use a so-called plea as cover for his plan to obstruct a government function through deception.” .
Trump has pleaded not guilty and accused prosecutors of trying to interfere in his 2024 presidential campaign, where he holds a commanding lead in opinion polls ahead of the Republican presidential election. The case, brought in federal court in Washington, is one of four criminal prosecutions against Trump.
Trump continues to falsely attribute his 2020 election defeat to widespread voter fraud, despite courts, state audits and members of his former administration upholding the results.
Legal experts say a judge will likely limit the arguments Trump can make at the trial, which is expected to begin in March 2024, but the filings provide insight into some themes of his defense.
“There is a concern here about the uncertain line between advocacy and criminal conduct,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and a frequent witness to Republican lawmakers in Congress.
The indictment alleges that while Trump had the right to legally challenge the results, he took illegal actions, including creating lists of fraudulent voters And put pressure on Mike Pence, then vice president to refuse to certify the election results before Congress.
“He’s not accused of anything that makes his political advocacy relevant,” said Ty Cobb, who once represented Trump but has since become critical of the former president. “He can say the election was stolen. He can say the system was corrupt, but he cannot engage in or direct specific illegal conduct.”
‘CONTROL YOUR CUSTOMER’
Throughout his years in the public eye, Trump has cultivated an unyielding personality that was on display Monday during his testimony at a civil fraud trial in New York state, where he fought with Judge Arthur Engoronignoring the questions and questioning the impartiality of the judge.
“Mr. Kise, can you control your client? This is not a political rally. This is a courtroom,” Engoron said, referring to Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise.
Trump’s political rhetoric is also poised to become a point of contention in the Washington case, where U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has already warned Trump’s lawyers against taking the campaign to court .
At trial, legal experts say Trump likely won’t be allowed to argue to a jury that his conduct was protected by his First Amendment right to free speech because those legal questions are resolved by the judge. However, this argument could form the basis of an appeal if he is found guilty.
“A lot of crimes, and certainly a lot of conspiracy crimes, involve the use of words,” said Kristy Parker, an attorney with Protect Democracy, an advocacy group that has called on Trump to be held accountable for his actions. “This does not mean that these words constitute protected speech.”
Trump repeatedly relied on free speech arguments to defend his remarks before the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters and in oppose an order of partial silence in the criminal case.
These claims complement his political argument as an anti-establishment crusader whose movement faces powerful enemies seeking to silence him.
His lawyers argued in court filings that Trump was allowed to distrust “establishment-based government officials” who told Trump his fraud claims were false. Many of these officials, including former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, were appointed by Trump.
Trump’s lawyers have also suggested they may seek a defense attorney’s adviceasserting that Trump relied in good faith on the advice of lawyers.
Criminal defendants can use the defense to argue that they sought legal advice and did not intend to break the law.
But this defense carries its own risks. Prosecutors have already noted that Trump would have to turn over records previously protected by attorney-client privilege.
Additionally, several lawyers who advised Trump and his campaign after the election have been identified as unindicted co-conspirators in the case and was charged in a separate criminal case in Georgia.
Three former Trump lawyers have already pleaded guilty in Georgia, including Kenneth Chesebrowho wrote notes elaborating the fake election ploy.
Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis
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