Another scheme, a bigger lie. This time, Trump didn’t just hide the truth; he sought to distort it. And even when “faced with the public revelation of his actions,” the articles of impeachment note, the president continued to “openly and corruptly” urge Ukraine to open investigations that would help Trump politically. Such shamelessness is possible only from a president confident that enough voters will share it.
The recent indictment by the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., covers a multitude of alleged crimes — like issuing false statements and filing false documents, forgery, conspiracy to defraud the state, solicitation of the violation of an oath by a public officer — but it comes down to a single corrupt purpose: Once Trump lost the 2020 election, the outgoing president sought to reverse or at least delegitimize the outcome.
We experience Trump’s impeachments and indictments only in the order in which they came out, a sequence that does not neatly track the chronology or intensity of his misdeeds. Trump progressed from hiding reality with the hush-money payments (indictment No. 1), to remaking reality with the attempted shakedown of Ukraine (impeachment No. 1), to ignoring reality with his insistence that he had won re-election and that other officials should affirm that belief (indictment Nos. 3 and 4). The next step was obvious — to change reality by force. So came Jan. 6 (addressed in impeachment No. 2 as well as indictments Nos. 3 and 4, for those keeping score at home).
Trump’s mendacity about the 2020 election was legal; as Jack Smith, the latest special counsel appointed by the Justice Department to investigate him, put it, “the Defendant had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud.” His alleged actions and conspiracies in furtherance of those lies — pushing officials to ignore the popular vote in their states, disenfranchising voters, encouraging fake slates of electors — were not, according to the indictment. And once the attempts to claim a counterfactual victory were rejected in the courts, in the states and by his own vice president, the call for violence was all that was left. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” Trump declared on Jan. 6.
That line was quoted in Trump’s second impeachment, in support of its lone article, incitement of insurrection. It was one of three utterances by the president included in the document. The other two were, “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide” (also from Jan. 6) and then a single word, “find,” from Trump’s request to the secretary of state of Georgia to manufacture more votes for him, just enough to win. Those quotes also show the Trumpian progression: The lie, the scheme to support it and the brutishness to enforce it.