Trump Seeks to Use Trial to Challenge Findings That 2020 Election Was Fair
Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump said in court papers that they planned to question the findings of several government agencies that the 2020 election was conducted fairly as part of their efforts to defend Mr. Trump against federal charges that he sought to overturn the results of the race.
The lawyers also suggested in the papers that they intended to raise a host of distractions as part of their defense, indicating that they want to drag unrelated matters like Hunter Biden’s criminal prosecution and the investigation into former Vice President Mike Pence’s handling of classified documents into the election interference case.
The twin filings by Mr. Trump’s lawyers late on Monday were formal requests to the prosecution to provide them with reams of additional material that they believe can help them fight the conspiracy indictment accusing Mr. Trump of seeking to subvert the lawful transfer of presidential power three years ago and stay in office despite his loss to Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Criminal defendants routinely make such requests in what are known as motions to compel discovery, but many of those made in Mr. Trump’s two filings were long-shot efforts that are likely to be rejected. Ultimately, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing the election interference case, will have the power to decide which, if any, of the records Mr. Trump will get.
But even if his lawyers get far less than what they asked for, the scope of their requests can be read as a kind of outline of how they plan to fight the case, which is set to go to trial in March in Federal District Court in Washington.
At the heart of their strategy, the court papers say, is a plan to call into question findings made by the intelligence community, the F.B.I. and other federal agencies that the election was not marred by widespread fraud.
The lawyers intend to argue that government reports upholding the integrity of the election were in fact a “partisan effort to provide false assurances to the public.” By questioning the consensus that the election was secure, the lawyers are hoping to show that Mr. Trump was acting in good faith when he spread lies that the vote count had been rigged — a move that could weaken the prosecution’s attempts to prove his criminal intent.
To make that argument, Mr. Trump’s legal team has asked Judge Chutkan to force the special counsel, Jack Smith, who is prosecuting the federal cases against the former president, to give it any internal government records that cut against the dominant view that the election had been conducted fairly.
Those requests were only some of the 59 separate demands for records made in more than 70 pages of court papers submitted by Mr. Trump’s legal team. Looking for anything that could help them prove the race was not secure, the lawyers made additional requests for information about how federal officials assessed cyberattacks around the time of the election and about attempts by foreign governments to interfere in it.
Suggesting yet another defense strategy, the lawyers also asked for any records that could help them undermine Mr. Smith’s contention that Mr. Trump was responsible for the violence that erupted at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. They specifically asked Judge Chutkan to allow them access to any information about security measures implemented at the Capitol before the attack and about the presence of federal agents or informants who were on the ground during the riot.
Almost from the moment the election interference indictment was handed up in August, Mr. Trump’s lawyers have tried to paint the case as a direct attempt by Mr. Biden to sabotage the man who is likely to be his chief rival in the 2024 election. They have advanced that argument not only without any evidence, but also in spite of the fact that the charges were filed by Mr. Smith, an independent prosecutor.
The lawyers have specifically accused Mr. Biden of seeking to have Mr. Trump indicted in retaliation for the investigation of Hunter Biden, who was indicted in September on federal gun charges in a separate prosecution. And the discovery filings on Monday suggested that Mr. Trump’s lawyers would like nothing better than to muddy the waters of the election interference case by introducing evidence at trial about Hunter Biden.
To that end, the lawyers requested any information concerning “coordination” between the Justice Department and the Biden administration or Mr. Biden’s family.
In another far-fetched request, the lawyers asked for any records concerning dealings that the Justice Department had with Mr. Pence, who was investigated earlier this year after he returned to federal officials several classified documents he had kept when he left office.
In their filing, Mr. Trump’s lawyers suggested without citing any evidence that Mr. Pence, who is likely to be a key government witness at the election interference trial, had “an incentive to curry favor with authorities” because of the potential charges he faced in his classified documents inquiry.
Judge Chutkan will not issue a ruling on Mr. Trump’s requests until after prosecutors working for Mr. Smith respond to them next month. And her eventual decree about discovery is only one of several important decisions she will have to make in coming days.
She is poised to issue an order about Mr. Trump’s claims that he enjoyed “absolute immunity” from the election charges because the indictment arose from official actions he took while in the White House. She is also expected to decide whether to allow cameras into her courtroom and televise the trial.