Anyone who lived through Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election—a scheme that was capped off by an insurrection that left multiple people dead—knows there is nothing funny about the crimes that the ex-president was indicted on last week. They are, in fact, deeply serious and, as a result, could lead to Trump being sentenced to many years in prison. A subplot to all of the aforementioned that is pretty funny, though? Trump’s very own defense attorney going on TV and making his client look guilty as fuck—on multiple occasions!
On Sunday, Trump lawyer John Lauro appeared on Meet the Press and told Chuck Todd that if Trump committed a “technical violation of the Constitution”—which is to say, a violation of the Constitution—it doesn’t mean he necessarily broke any criminal laws. That claim occurred in the midst of an argument re: whether Mike Pence has ever said Trump asked him to break the law by demanding the then VP block the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. “He said the president asked him to violate the Constitution, which is another way of saying he asked him to break the law,” Todd told Lauro, to which the presumably highly-paid defense attorney responded, “No, that’s wrong. A technical violation of the Constitution is not a violation of criminal law.” (It is, and more on that soon.)
Elsewhere in the interview, Lauro also told Todd, “The defense is quite simple. President Trump believed in his heart of hearts that he had won that election, and as any American citizen, he had a right to speak out under the First Amendment.” To be clear, Jack Smith has said said the same thing, almost verbatim! The indictment literally reads: “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 during the election and that he had won.” Trump has not been charged with falsely stating he won the election; he’s been charged with—among other things—a conspiracy to defraud the United States. (As for whether or not he truly believed “in his heart of hearts” that he won, many people who spoke to him at the time say he fully knew he lost.)
But back to the whole “technical violations of the Constitution are fine, everyone can go home” business. If you’re finding yourself wondering if this is as absurd an argument as it sounds, (1) you are not alone, and (2) yes, it is deeply absurd! In a subsequent interview with Meet the Press on Sunday, Representative Jamie Raskin—a member of the January 6 committee who has the distinction of being an actual constitutional law expert—told Chuck Todd: “First of all, a technical violation of the Constitution is a violation of the Constitution. The Constitution in six different places opposes insurrection.” Trump, Raskin continued, “conspired to defraud the American people out of our right to an honest election by substituting the real legal process we have under federal and state law with counterfeit electors. There are people in jail for several years for counterfeiting one vote, if they try to vote illegally once. He tried to steal the entire election.”
In an email following his Meet the Press appearance, Lauro told NBC News that he “never said that President Trump committed a technical violation.” (He must have been talking about some other theoretical ex-president who tried to overturn the election??) Lauro’s Sunday remarks came days after a pair of incredible TV interviews in which he repeatedly admitted that Trump had tried to stop the certification of Biden’s win, insisted that this was fine, and suggested his client receive credit for not sending in “the tanks.”
In related news, Mike Pence has not ruled out appearing as a witness for the prosecution, saying on Face the Nation that “people can be confident we’ll obey the law. We’ll respond to the call of law, if it comes, and we’ll just tell the truth.” (This is not as comforting as it sounds, given that the former VP refused to testify before the January 6 committee, and had to be forced by a judge to appear before the grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn the election.)
Also on Sunday, Trump demanded the judge randomly assigned to his trial, Tanya Chutkan, be removed from the case, claiming he can’t get a fair trial in her courtroom or any DC courtroom for that matter. Instead, he’d like to be tried in the “politically unbiased nearby State of West Virginia,” which surely has nothing to do with him winning nearly 70% of the state in 2020.