Trump Tried to Steal Pennsylvania’s Votes, Notes New Indictment

Donald Trump's mugshot above the words

The third indictment of Donald Trump was delivered Tuesday and it was, to paraphrase FDR, a day that will live in infamy. The headlines on newspapers Wednesday were shocking. The New York Times headline reads: “Trump charged with ‘destabilizing lies’ in 3 conspiracies to overturn his defeat.”

Lower down, but above the fold, “What’s at Stake? Essence of American Democracy.”

Even the New York Post — a right-wing tabloid — read: “Conspiracy to defraud the United States” with a photo of a defeated looking Trump.

There were more — nearly every newspaper in the country, right or left, red state or blue state — led with the shocking criminal indictment of the former president.

It was succinct as it was sobering for the nation: Trump was indicted on felony charges for working to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the run-up to the violent insurrections by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol. The Justice Department is attempting to hold Trump accountable for an unprecedented effort to block the peaceful transfer of presidential power and threaten American democracy. Special Counsel Jack Smith described the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol as an “unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” and said the attack was “fueled by lies” from Trump.

It’s stunning. A country that saw Richard Nixon resign 49 years ago is now faced with a twice-impeached, thrice-indicted former president who tried to instigate a coup against this country as the overwhelming frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

How did we get here? How is the “essence of our democracy” hanging in the balance?  As Michael Beschloss, presidential historian, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday morning, “From time to time, America faces threats from monsters who want to destroy our democracy.”

Beschloss said, “What we see in this indictment is on January 6, 2021, Trump tried to destroy our system, to take away our rule of law. It almost happened.” 

The four-count indictment is the third criminal case against Trump. And in the damning 45-page indictment, Americans can now read how even as the insurrection was happening at the Capitol and his own vice president’s life was at stake along with countless others, Trump kept trying to manipulate the violence by claiming it was yet another reason to delay the formal acceptance of votes and thus stave off codifying his defeat.

Among the states Trump tried to overturn was Pennsylvania. As I wrote in numerous stories over the 2020 election cycle, Trump focused on this state and Philadelphia in particular, which he asserted was especially corrupt.

The indictment, the result of nearly two years of investigation by the DOJ and FBI and Special Counsel Smith, who previously prosecuted war criminals in The Hague, has charges including conspiring to defraud the U.S. government that he once led. Trump, the indictment states, assaulted the “bedrock function” of democracy.

Trump is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Trump is expected to appear in person Thursday for his arraignment in federal court in Washington, D.C. 

The U.S. Constitution mandates, “the votes shall then be counted.” But Trump demanded that Mike Pence not do it. He threatened Pence, he berated him, he called him a p*ssy. The Secret Service tried to take Pence away to keep the count from happening, but he refused to get in the car.

It was the stuff of Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy political thrillers. And, as in those thrillers, not everybody survived the January 6 attack.

The indictment is a chilling read. Yet no more so than the Twitter/X comments from the GOP and other right-wing voices who dismissed the indictment completely or stated, like presidential contender Ron DeSantis, that they hadn’t bothered to read it.

Historically marginalized communities like Black Americans and LGBTQ+ people knew Trump was a danger long before he won the 2016 election. But in the hundreds of stories I wrote about Trump and his cohort over the four years of his disastrous and harmful presidency, a core group of Trump voters stayed loyal. These were among the people who showed up on January 6 and who now contend — as did hundreds in Erie, Pennsylvania at a Trump rally last weekend — that the 2020 election was stolen.

Because Trump is still saying it.

Philadelphia clinched the election for Joe Biden. This city will be pivotal again for the 2024 election. But if Trump was dangerous in 2016 and 2020, he is exponentially more so now as he runs for president to stay out of prison.

It was Trump supporters in the state assembly that got a measure to make mail-in ballots harder to access in Pennsylvania. A group of Republican lawmakers and a Republican county commissioner sued in 2021 saying the law violates the state Constitution. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s mail voting law after a long legal fight in 2022, but that hasn’t made it as easy to vote as it should be, as I wrote for the Inquirer.

We are at an inflection point in this country. Trump has promised violence like January 6 if he is convicted. He is holding his own party and the rest of us hostage to his criminality and thirst for power. He’s warned us again and again about who he is and what he is capable of. We cannot afford to stop listening. Our lives and our nation are at stake.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.