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Special counsel previews trial roadmap in federal 2020 election case against Trump

Washington — Special counsel Jack Smith, who is set to prosecute former President Donald Trump in federal court early next year, offered new insight into the evidence he plans to show the jury at trial, including information that the government alleges shows the events of Jan. 6, 2021, were "exactly what [Trump] intended" to happen, according to a new court filing. 

Smith charged Trump with four counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of an official proceeding, stemming from Trump's alleged efforts to resist the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election. 

In a new filing Tuesday, prosecutors revealed they plan to use historical evidence of events occurring both before and after the alleged conspiracy. In doing so, they aim to demonstrate Trump's motives, intent and knowledge. They intend to include his history of denying the election results and support of high-profile Jan. 6 defendants.  

Prosecutors say that Trump's alleged "embrace of particularly violent and notorious rioters" after Jan. 6, 2021, is admissible" to establish his motive and intent leading up to on that day.

They argue that Trump "sent supporters, including groups like the Proud Boys, whom he knew were angry, and whom he now calls 'patriots,' to the Capitol to achieve the criminal objective of obstructing the congressional certification." 

Smith's team honed in on Trump's comments supporting former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio, who was convicted earlier this year of seditious conspiracy tied to the Capitol attack. Prosecutors pointed to a September 2023 interview in which Trump said of Tarrio that "he and other people have been treated horribly."

The Jan. 6-related evidence that prosecutors plan to introduce at trial — including Trump's past mention of possibly pardoning defendants should he be reelected — "shows that these individuals acted as [Trump] directed them to act," the special counsel wrote Tuesday, adding that he believes "the rioters' disruption of the certification proceeding is exactly what [Trump] intended on January 6." 

Smith's partially redacted filing also revealed that prosecutors obtained what they say is evidence regarding an unnamed Trump 2020 campaign staffer who allegedly "encouraged rioting and other methods of obstruction" at a Detroit vote-counting center one day after the 2020 election, as the vote count began to favor then-candidate Joe Biden

Such evidence, according to prosecutors, will be used at trial in an attempt to prove to the jury a key component of Smith's case against Trump: that he allegedly knew that he had lost the election, but pushed to "obstruct and overturn the legitimate results," the filing said. 

In a statement, Trump's campaign spokesman Steven Cheung accused Smith of "perverting justice by trying to include claims that weren't anywhere to be found in their dreamt up, fake indictment." 

"President Trump will not be deterred and will continue speaking truth to corrupt, weaponized power and law enforcement," Cheung's statement in response to Tuesday's court filing said.  

The indictment against Trump — to which he has pleaded not guilty, and he denies any wrongdoing — alleged he engaged in a pattern of baseless claims of fraud in an effort to oppose the transition of presidential power. Tuesday's filing says prosecutors will show jurors social media posts and language dating back to 2012 and 2016 to demonstrate these propensities. 

"The Government will offer proof of this refusal as intrinsic evidence of the defendant's criminal conspiracies because it shows his plan to remain in power at any cost — even in the face of potential violence," Smith's team wrote. 

The trial in this case is currently scheduled for March 4, 2024

Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is set to preside over the weeks-long proceeding, ruled last week that Trump cannot be shielded from criminal prosecution after leaving office for alleged conduct during his time in office. The former president argued special counsel Jack Smith's four charges should be dropped on the basis that presidents cannot be charged with a crime.

"Whatever immunities a sitting President may enjoy, the United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong 'get-out-of-jail-free' pass," Chutkan wrote Friday. 

About 1,200 defendants have been charged for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 attack, nearly 700 of whom have admitted to certain conduct and pleaded guilty. 

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