Political Speech

In Challenge To Indictment, Trump’s Lawyers Argue He Had Good Basis To Question Election

Donald Trump visits Aberdeen, Scotland
Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures after arriving at Aberdeen International Airport in Aberdeen, Scotland, May 1, 2023. (Reuters/Russell Cheyne)

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump had a “good faith” basis to question the results of the 2020 election, his lawyers said in demanding that prosecutors turn over any evidence related to voting irregularities and potential foreign interference in the contest won by Democrat Joe Biden.

A defense motion filed late Monday in federal court in Washington asserts that Trump was not obligated to accept at face value the judgments of government officials who time and again found no widespread fraud in the election. It floats the possibility that foreign actors might have influenced the race and alleges that federal officials gave “false assurances” to the public about the security of the election that “outpaced” what the government actually knew.

“It was not unreasonable at the time, and certainly not criminal, for President Trump to disagree with officials now favored by the prosecution and to rely instead on the independent judgment that the American people elected him to use while leading the country,” the lawyers wrote.

The filing is the clearest indication yet that Trump’s lawyers are hoping to sow doubt before a jury in the legitimacy of the race or at least make the case that his skepticism was justified and not motivated by criminal intent. The lawyers seek permission to force special counsel Jack Smith’s team to produce vast swaths of information that they say could aid the defense, including the “impact of foreign influence” and “actual and attempted compromises of election infrastructure” as well as evidence of potential “political bias” that could have shaped the intelligence community’s assessment of the election.

Courts around the country and Trump’s own attorney general have found no evidence of fraud that could have affected the outcome, and the Homeland Security Department’s cybersecurity arm pronounced it “the most secure in American history.” Smith’s team alleges that Trump, a Republican, ignored all of those findings and launched an illegal plot to undo the election and block the peaceful transfer of power.

But the Trump lawyers assert in the 37-page filing that he had reason to question the results.

The motion recounts Russian efforts in 2016 to undermine confidence in that year’s election, though it glosses over the intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow had a “clear preference” for Trump over his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

It also revisits the intelligence community’s effort in 2020 to discern potential interference by countries including Russia, China and Iran. It quotes from a Jan. 7, 2021 memo from John Ratcliffe, the then-director of national intelligence and a close Trump ally, that said China sought to influence the election. And it seeks information from prosecutors about a Russian cyberespionage campaign in 2019 and 2020 that affected numerous federal government agencies, with the lawyers saying that that intrusion calls into question the confidence being expressed by officials at that time in the security of the election.

“The Office cannot blame President Trump for public discord and distrust of the 2020 election results while refusing to turn over evidence that foreign actors stoked the very same flames that the Office identifies as inculpatory in the indictment,” the motion states.

It goes on to say: “The Office cannot rely on selected guidance and judgments by officials it favors from the Intelligence Community and law enforcement while ignoring evidence of political bias in those officials’ decision-making as well as cyberattacks and other interference, both actual and attempted, that targeted critical infrastructure and election facilities before, during, and after the 2020 election.”

Defense lawyers are also seeking to force prosecutors to turn over documents related to the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, when pro-Trump loyalists stormed the building in a violent confrontation with police in an effort to disrupt the counting of electoral votes. The attorneys are looking in part for statements by prosecutors in other riot-related cases that they say could conflict with the Smith team’s assertion that Trump was responsible for the violence at the Capitol that day.

The Trump lawyers have already asked U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to dismiss the indictment, saying he is shielded from prosecution by presidential immunity and arguing that the charges violate his First Amendment rights. Those requests are still pending.