The lawyer leading former president Donald Trump’s defense against the indictment brought by a D.C. grand jury appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. In short order, the attorney, John Lauro, got into a debate with host Dana Bash over the genesis of the charges.
Bash asked Lauro whether his team would agree to special counsel Jack Smith’s proposed rules for evidence-sharing. Lauro responded by disparaging the idea — and putting blame for it at the feet of President Biden.
“This protective order that’s being suggested by the Biden administration,” he said, “is an effort to keep from the press important nonsensitive information that the Biden administration has that may speak to the innocence of President Trump.”
“This isn’t by the Biden administration,” Bash responded. “This is by the special independent counsel.”
“No, the independent counsel — it’s not independent, it’s special counsel — has to get the approval of [Attorney General] Merrick Garland in order to go forward,” Lauro replied. “Joe Biden said in November 2022 that he wanted to see President Trump prosecuted and taken out of this race. So, it is the Biden administration. Make no mistake about it.”
This idea that Biden stated that investigations into Trump were centered on the 2024 election has been debunked; a comment he made after the 2022 midterms was taken out of context.
What’s more, while the special counsel does operate under the auspices of the Justice Department, he does have largely independent authority. Garland can ask Smith to explain his decisions and veto them, but Smith is otherwise empowered to bring charges, including those against Trump.
Smith was appointed immediately after Trump announced his 2024 candidacy, specifically to separate the probes from the Biden administration. Lauro is presenting that as an unimportant distinction — because his media appearances are centered on influencing public opinion. After all, one of Trump’s best defenses against the criminal charges would be winning the 2024 presidential election.
New polling from CBS News, conducted by YouGov, shows that arguments like the one made by Lauro have real traction. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans think that the investigations into Trump are an effort to keep him from winning the White House next year. Trump argues that he’s being indicted because his opponents want to punish his supporters; half of Republicans think that the probes are “an attack on people like me.”
The CBS poll shows a wide partisan divergence on Trump’s response to the 2020 election.
Most Democrats think that Trump aimed to use illegal or unconstitutional means to retain power after his loss, a belief that overlaps with the indictment approved by the D.C. grand jury last week. Overall, just over half of Americans think that’s the case.
Among Republicans, though, a plurality think he only sought to retain power using legal means — and a third think he wasn’t trying to retain power at all.
Reporting, including from The Washington Post, continues to suggest that many of Trump’s allies were concerned in the moment that he was crossing a legal line.
Asked whether they were more concerned about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election or about the purported political motivation of the charges and the most recent indictment, Americans were split. Most Democrats said the former concerned them more; most Republicans, the latter. Even a quarter of Democrats, though, said they were concerned about both.
More than two-thirds of Republicans share Lauro’s belief that the new indictment was worryingly political.
CBS asked respondents to evaluate statements about the indictments (all three of them) and investigations into Trump. Most said that the probes were “upholding the rule of law,” including most independents. Slightly less than half of independents viewed the probes as “defending democracy.”
In those last two responses, you see the effectiveness of Trump’s arguments. Most Republicans said that the probes were an attack on people like them and a huge majority said the investigations were aimed at blocking Trump’s 2024 candidacy. More than 6 in 10 people overall, and just under two-thirds of independents, also said that was an appropriate description of the investigations.
The legal justification of the indictments will ultimately be tested in court — unless something interrupts the progression of each case going to trial. One such interruption might be Trump’s election next November, a result that would certainly in part be a function of his supporters responding to questions about his actions as outlined above.
In other words, most Republicans — and perhaps most Americans — think that Biden is engaged in what Trump is accused of doing: manipulating the system to retain power. Subtle arguments about the role of a special counsel probably won’t do much to reverse that idea.