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Trump's lawyers urge judge to dismiss federal election interference case

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump boards his plane at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Monday.
Charles Krupa
/
AP
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump boards his plane at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Monday.

Updated October 24, 2023 at 1:34 PM ET

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump exhorted a judge to dismiss the federal election interference case against him, arguing that the Justice Department is criminalizing "core political speech" protected by the First Amendment and selectively targeting him for prosecution.

Trump's legal team said the former president, like millions of other Americans, had every right to cast aspersions on the integrity of the 2020 election — even as senior members of his own administration repeatedly assured Trump that no widespread fraud had influenced the outcome of the race.

"If there is any constant in our democratic system of governance, it is that the marketplace of ideas — not the mandates of government functionaries or partisan prosecutors — determines the scope of public debate," wrote defense attorneys John Lauro, Todd Blanche, Gregory Singer and Emil Bove.

The lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to dismiss the unprecedented four-count felony indictment on an array of legal grounds, including the idea that the U.S. Senate acquitted Trump in an impeachment proceeding only weeks after the violent siege at the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump stands accused of defrauding the government he once led and violating the rights of millions of Americans whose votes he allegedly tried to cast aside in favor of bogus "alternative" slates of electors. He's pleaded not guilty to the charges.

His lawyers said in one of the new court filings that there's no evidence Trump acted "corruptly," nor that he deceived anyone.

"To assert that President Trump, as one voice among countless millions, was somehow capable of unilaterally 'tricking' or 'deceiving' these individuals, who include some of the most informed politicians on the planet, simply by advocating his opinions on this contentious issue, is beyond absurd," they wrote.

The Justice Department already has charged more than 1,000 people with breaking the law at the Capitol more than two years ago, many of whom have pleaded guilty and told judges they traveled to Washington after Trump urged them to "be there, will be wild."

The former president is not charged with inciting violence on Jan. 6. His lawyers are asking the judge to strike references to that day from the indictment as "inflammatory" to a D.C.-based jury.

But in earlier court filings in the case, prosecutors Molly Gaston and Thomas Windom said they had "clearly linked" Trump to the violence at the Capitol, by targeting the certification and directing his supporters to the building to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence. More than 140 law enforcement officers suffered injuries in the siege.

Trump is the leading candidate for the GOP nomination to return to the White House in 2024. He's campaigning even as he fights criminal cases in four different jurisdictions: Florida; Fulton County, Ga.; New York; and Washington, D.C.

Trump has been seeking to delay each of these criminal trials until after the next election, which could afford him an opportunity to influence the outcome if he regains the presidency.

In the meantime, the former president wants the D.C. judge to hold a hearing on his claims of selective prosecution. His legal team said the case "is a straightforward retaliatory response to President Trump's decisions as Commander In Chief in 2020, his exercising his constitutional rights to free speech and to petition for the redress of grievances, and his decision to run for political office."

Prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith will have an opportunity to respond to these and other allegations by Trump in court filings in the coming days.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is NPR's National Justice Correspondent.