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Prosecutors cite Trump's history of false election claims as evidence of motive

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo with the White House in the background, President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo with the White House in the background, President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Washington.

The special counsel team prosecuting former President Donald Trump for interference in the 2020 presidential election is signaling it wants to use Trump's false claims about election fraud dating back a decade to demonstrate "his motive, intent, and plan" to cling to power.

In a new court filing, prosecutors said Trump had a record of refusing to honor the peaceful transition of power — and a pattern of sidelining people who pushed back on his bogus assertions of fraud, including the former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee and a Georgia election worker, sometimes encouraging violence against them.

Senior Assistant Special Counsel Molly Gaston wrote the Justice Department planned to introduce evidence at next year's trial about an unnamed and unindicted co-conspirator who worked on Trump's 2020 campaign.

This person allegedly sent text messages to a Trump lawyer where he "encouraged rioting and other methods of obstruction" after the vote count at Detroit's TCF Center leaned in Joe Biden's direction on Nov. 4, 2020.

Around that same time, an election official at that Detroit site saw people flooding to the area and making "illegitimate and aggressive challenges" to the voting tallies, the DOJ filing said. For his part, Trump posted false claims about election activities there, "when in truth his agent was seeking to cause a riot to disrupt the count," prosecutor Gaston wrote.

"This evidence is admissible to demonstrate that the defendant, his co-conspirators, and agents had knowledge that the defendant had lost the election, as well as their intent and motive to obstruct and overturn the
legitimate results," Gaston wrote.

Prosecutors also want to present evidence about Trump's embrace of some of the most violent rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, whom Trump has supported financially and rhetorically. The former president has called some of these defendants "hostages" and has said he may seek to pardon a large number of them.

The Justice Department said Trump's longstanding support for members of the mob at the Capitol and leaders of the extremist Proud Boys group represented evidence of his intent to conspire to deprive people of their voting rights and to defraud the government he once led. "[I]t shows that these individuals acted as he
directed them to act; indeed, this evidence shows that the rioters' disruption of the certification proceeding is exactly what the defendant intended on January 6," they wrote.

The filing, portions of which remain redacted, relates to a federal rule of criminal procedure that governs how prosecutors can introduce evidence of a defendant's prior "bad acts." The rule allows prosecutors to show a jury information about uncharged crimes if it helps prove such things as motive, intent and preparation.

In this case, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan will have the final say after she receives a written response from Trump's legal team.

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

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.