Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump fired off a barrage of new attacks on Monday night against the federal charges accusing him of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, filing nearly 100 pages of court papers seeking to have the case thrown out before it reaches a jury.
In four separate motions to dismiss — or limit the scope of — the case, Mr. Trump’s legal team made an array of arguments on legal and constitutional grounds, some of which strained the boundaries of credulity.
The lawyers claimed, largely citing news articles, that President Biden had pressured the Justice Department to pursue a “nakedly political” selective prosecution of Mr. Trump. They asserted that prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, had failed to prove any of the three conspiracy counts brought against the former president.
And they argued that under the principle of double jeopardy, Mr. Trump could not be tried on the election interference charges since he had already been acquitted by the Senate on many of the same accusations during his second impeachment.
The lawyers also tried to persuade Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing the case, that the allegations against Mr. Trump, accusing him of wielding lies about election fraud in a vast campaign to pressure others to help him stay in power, were based on examples of “core political speech” and were therefore protected by the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment fully protects opinions and claims on widely disputed political and historical issues,” one of the lawyers, John F. Lauro, wrote, adding, “It confers the same protection on the same statements made in advocating for government officials to act on one’s views.”
Mr. Lauro’s free speech claims, developed in a 31-page brief filed to Judge Chutkan in Federal District Court in Washington, were some of the most substantial arguments he made on Monday night, and they essentially sought to rewrite the underlying narrative of Mr. Smith’s indictment.
According to that indictment, in the months after Mr. Trump lost the election, he used lies about widespread fraud to strong-arm state lawmakers and election officials into handing him a victory. It accused him of creating false slates of electors declaring he had won states he had not and said that he had tried to enlist pliant Justice Department officials into supporting his schemes.
It laid out evidence of how he had pressured his own vice president, Mike Pence, into altering the outcome of the race during the certification of the election at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and ultimately exploited the violence that erupted that day to further maintain his slipping grip on power.
In Mr. Lauro’s retelling of events, however, none of those moves were criminal. Instead, he argued, they were examples of Mr. Trump expressing opinions about fraud or using speech protected by the First Amendment to convince those around him that they needed to fix what he believed were genuine problems in how the election had been conducted.
In Mr. Lauro’s account, Mr. Trump was not breaking the law when he used false claims of fraud to persuade state lawmakers to declare he had won the race, but was only making arguments in “the free marketplace of ideas.”
In a similar fashion, Mr. Trump’s attempts to pressure Mr. Pence into throwing him the election during the certification proceeding on Jan. 6 should not have been indictable offenses, Mr. Lauro argued. They were simply examples of Mr. Trump “petitioning” government officials “for a redress of grievances,” he asserted.
At times, Mr. Lauro’s free speech arguments echoed Mr. Trump’s own outrageous statements about the election, claiming that “abundant public evidence” existed that the count had been marred by fraud and that Mr. Trump was under no obligation to trust “the word” of “establishment-based government officials” who told him otherwise.
Mr. Lauro’s argument hinged in part on the idea that Mr. Trump was reflecting widespread concern about election fraud, without acknowledging that it was Mr. Trump and his allies who were planting and spreading the baseless claims in the first place.