A lawyer representing former President Donald Trump in the case in which he stands accused of attempting to interfere with the 2020 election appeared to admit on Thursday night that Trump sought to coerce former Vice President Mike Pence to act illegally ahead of Congress’s certification of the Electoral College.
As part of his four-count indictment of Trump, special counsel Jack Smith asserted that Trump and his co-conspirators repeatedly sought to convince Pence to disregard electors’ votes or otherwise send the votes back to the states to reconsider — an action that Pence had no power to do as the ceremonial counter of electoral votes.
In an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program Thursday evening, Trump’s lawyer John Lauro said that Trump had indeed tried to convince Pence to act in such a way, wrongly suggesting that such an action wasn’t unconstitutional.
“What President Trump said is…let’s just halt, let’s just pause the voting and allow the state legislatures to take one last look and make a determination as to whether or not the elections were handled fairly,” Lauro said. “That’s constitutional law. That’s not an issue of criminal activity.”
Trump had already taken several avenues to dispute the outcome of the 2020 election, losing dozens of court challenges in which judges — including some appointed by him — refused to entertain his false claims of election fraud.
There is nothing in the Constitution, nor in federal statute, that grants a vice president the power to return Electoral College votes back to the states if they personally believe the electors’ votes were made in error.
Trump’s efforts to coerce Pence to act illegally are indeed well-documented in the indictment. On page 34, for example, it’s noted that Trump and his lawyer, John Eastman, met with Pence and his staff “for the purpose of convincing the Vice President, based on the Defendant’s knowingly false claims of election fraud, that the Vice President should reject or send to the states Biden’s legitimate electoral votes, rather than count them.”
Trump and Eastman requested that Pence “either unilaterally reject the legitimate electors from the seven targeted states, or send the question of which slate was legitimate to the targeted states’ legislatures” — something that Pence did not have legal authority to do.
Page 42 of the indictment also includes a passage noting that Eastman even appeared to admit that what he and Trump were ordering Pence to do would be a “violation” of federal law.
Following his appearance on the program, Lauro disputed that his words were an admission of Trump’s guilt. “My comments were consistent with the facts that are already in the public record, and by no means constitute any admission,” he told Newsweek.
Many observers disagreed with Lauro’s assessment.
“That is a Trump criminal defense lawyer quoting Donald Trump committing a crime,” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell said on Thursday following Lauro’s interview on Fox News.
“It is such a damning thing when you put it in context because remember what the indictment alleges…[that] the reason this had to be done with the vice president is because, prior to that, all the efforts that Donald Trump took with respect to the secretaries of state did not work,” former Department of Justice lawyer Andrew Weissman said in an appearance on O’Donnell’s program.
“It certainly sounds like [Lauro] just said Trump tried to stop the certification of Biden’s victory in order to get more time for his scheme to overturn it,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington noted in a tweet.
“Trump’s lawyer admits that his client committed the very crime of which he is accused So can we all go home now? Looks like we’re all on the same page,” political strategist Lindy Li wrote on Twitter.
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