Donald Trump’s trial for allegedly conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election may hinge on how much, or if, he believes his own false claims. The indictment lays out the myriad ways Trump allegedly lied about mass voter fraud and tried to use those claims to get state, local and federal officials to change results to declare him the winner. Central to special counsel Jack Smith’s case is the accusation that Trump knew his claims were lies. Evidence of a defendant’s intent is often critical to criminal prosecutions, and it may be the most crucial element of Smith’s case against Trump, reports the Washington Post. “These claims were false, and the Defendant knew they were false,” the indictment’s first page declares, staking out the boundaries of what will probably be a high-stakes legal battlefield inside Trump’s brain.
“I think the entire indictment really turns on the question of Trump’s intent,” said Robert Kelner, a Washington, D.C., lawyer. “Arguably, there isn’t any smoking-gun evidence in the indictment regarding intent, though there is certainly circumstantial evidence. At the heart of the case is really a metaphysical question of whether it’s even possible for Donald Trump to believe that he lost the election, or lost anything else, for that matter.” At trial, Smith “needs to show that all of the false statements Trump made about the election, which the indictment chronicles in great detail, were understood by Trump to be false; otherwise, it becomes a case about political speech and First Amendment rights, and that’s not where the government wants to be,” Kelner said. “There is a decades-old question about whether, in the privacy of his own office or bedroom, Donald Trump admits to things that he doesn’t admit publicly or whether, even when he’s staring at himself in the bathroom mirror shaving, he’s telling himself the same lies that he tells the rest of us. I don’t think we know the answer. It may be an unanswerable question, and that’s one of the challenges facing Jack Smith.” Trump is due in court Thursday afternoon for his initial appearance on the new indictment, his third since April.