Trump indicted for efforts to overturn 2020 election: U-M experts offer insight
University of Michigan experts can discuss the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump, in which he’s been accused of trying to overturn the 2020 election and block the peaceful transition of presidential power.
Javed Ali, associate professor of practice at the Ford School of Public Policy, is a former senior U.S. government counterterrorism official.
“The indictment for Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection differs from other federal and state level charges brought to date,” he said. “The alleged charges most directly impacted the integrity of the 2020 presidential election and gave significant rhetorical inspiration for the thousands of people who descended on the U.S. Capitol, with almost 1,000 people already being charged and hundreds serving jail time.
“As with the other indictments facing Trump, however, the burden of proof will be on prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed these Jan. 6-related crimes. In the meantime, these different charges will likely have little impact on Trump’s political standing, since recent polling suggests he maintains a wide level of support far beyond any other challengers in the Republican race for the 2024 presidential race.”
Will Thomas is an assistant professor of business law at the Ross School of Business whose research explores the foundations of corporate and white-collar crime.
“Trump now faces criminal charges stemming from his political life before, during and after his presidency,” he said. “Special counsel Jack Smith, through a federal grand jury, has again chosen to file a talking indictment—in other words, a set of charges that go beyond the minimal level of detail required by federal criminal procedure in order to provide a detailed narrative of the alleged events.
“The indictment is pointed and comprehensive, and we should expect that prosecutors have gathered evidence to support those claims. Still, the major challenges here will turn on proving that Trump possessed the requisite mental state when he and his confederates routinely, loudly and falsely claimed that the results of the 2020 election were illegitimate.
“Beyond the substance of the case, Trump’s campaign has reportedly spent north of $20 million on legal bills in the first half of 2023 alone. That is, frankly, a staggering amount of money—even after accounting for the sky-high stakes and the fact that, at least until recently, his campaign has been footing the bill for many of his employees and co-defendants.
“In an important respect, political campaigns are like startups: They run a business that must scale quickly to reach a national audience and depend on major capital investments to survive. Although recent polling puts Trump far out front of his Republican rivals, it remains to be seen the impact this incredible burn rate will have on his ability to run a competitive primary and general election campaign.”
Barbara McQuade, professor from practice at Michigan Law, specializes in civil rights, public interest law and criminal law.
“By charging only Trump and not any of his six alleged co-conspirators, Jack Smith seems laser-focused on obtaining a prompt conviction of the former president,” she said. “The indictment avoids asserting some of the more aggressive charges, such as seditious conspiracy and inciting insurrection, which would have invited defense motions that would needlessly complicate and delay the case. Instead, the Indictment relies on tested legal theories that seem designed to streamline the pretrial process.”
“By focusing on Trump as the sole defendant, Smith seems determined to try the case before the November 2024 election.”