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Clarity At Last

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Addendum appended 21 August, 2023

In these days of double-standards and the blurring of lines — between true and not true, right and wrong — the indictment returned Monday by a Fulton County, Georgia grand jury has the illuminating sizzle of a lightening bolt. The main point of this blog is to ask you to read it. Not just the excerpts, or the commentary and political prognosticating that may be flooding your inbox and airwaves. Read the actual charges against former president Donald Trump and eighteen co-defendants. At least read pp. 14-19; you can skim the rest. You can do that by clicking right here.

I’m urging you to do so because these 98 pages of quaintly archaic legal language provide the crispest picture to date of the coordinated, multi-pronged campaign that was mounted in the final months of 2020 to illegally reverse the results of the last presidential election.

As thorough and innovative as the House select committee hearings on the January 6 attack were, they were spread across months, making it hard to grasp the whole picture they unveiled. And the careful distribution of roles and inevitable theater involved in what was a made-for-TV production sometimes interfered with the content. The Congressional investigation was focused specifically on the events of Jan. 6 themselves, moreover: the physical assault on the Capitol, not so much the campaign of which it was the final move.

For its part, the August 1 indictment secured by Special Counsel Jack Smith seems careful. It is leveled at Trump alone. And while it mentions a number of un-indicted (and therefore unnamed) co-conspirators who joined him in such alleged crimes as Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, it still frames the picture tightly.

The Georgia indictment is different. It describes a criminal association and shows the codefendants, repeatedly, acting as such. Through methodical listings of meetings and calls, exchanges of text messages, testimony before Georgia state legislators and those of other states, as well as repeated attempts to sidle up to a Georgia election worker and officials in other states to get them to bow to Trump’s wishes, the indictment puts the whole chilling scope of a coordinated conspiracy on display.

The very first sentence announces the bracing tone. “Defendant Donald John Trump,” it reads, “lost the United States presidential election held on November 3, 2020.” The formulaic language that follows — the repetition of “On or about” thus-and-such a date, or “…solicited, requested, and importuned..” have an oddly unexpected effect. Instead of clogging the narrative with complexity, they deliver clarity. Those time-honored expressions ring out the sharp distinctions that have faded from so much of our public discourse. So do such terms as “racketeering” and “overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy.” They leave us with no doubt as to the manner of crimes we're talking about.

Bravo to District Attorney Fani Willis for an historic piece of work.

You can read it here.

Allow me to ruin the succinctness (for once) of the above post, with the following update:

It is in response to statements or implications I've been picking up in the mainstream media since the Fulton County indictment came down. Note, for example, the New York Times' almost automatic use of the word "sprawling" before racketeering or conspiracy case. That's a subtle dig. "Sprawling" is not a neutral word. It is not a synonym for "broad" or "wide-ranging." It carries a negative implication -- of something not just big, but messy; something that slops over its natural boundaries. Think "urban sprawl."

More explicitly, I've heard D.A. Fani Willis likened to someone who has a hammer, so everything looks like a nail. She has tried some unusual RICO cases, and the suggestion (from this former prosecutor turned white-collar defense attorney, among others) is that she's sloppily overusing the statute, jamming behavior under its terms that doesn't quite fit.

I see her response to the alleged crimes she's been investigating differently. I consider how I react when I glimpse the telltale signs of corruption: when I discover, for example, that the richest woman in Africa was the daughter of the Angolan president and head of the national oil company, or when I see telltale "business" associations of such individuals. I know enough about how corruption works to have an immediate sense of what they're up to. I think Fani Willis is similar. I think she's got enough experience with corrupt organizations to know one when she sees it. What else should she call it?

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