Donald Trump’s Long Overdue Reckoning Is Finally At Hand

INSIDE: Jack Smith ... Aileen Cannon ... Rudy G
TPM Illustration/Getty Images
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

This is a special edition of TPM’s Morning Memo focused on the imminent indictment of former President Donald Trump for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.

It’s All Happening, Y’all

To recap a momentous day in our national history:

  • Former President Donald Trump announced that he had received a target letter from Special Counsel Jack Smith in connection with the effort to overturn the 2020 election that culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
  • State criminal charges were filed in Michigan against the slate of fake Trump electors that were part of the larger scheme to reverse the election results in key states.
  • In the Mar-a-Lago prosecution, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon presided over a nearly two-hour hearing centered on whether the trial should be set before the 2024 election in which Trump is the likely GOP nominee.

More than two years after the Republic was shaken to its core, the rule of law is slowly but surely being vindicated. Still a long way to go, but look how far we’ve come.

A Long Time Coming

Let’s not rush past the day’s most important development: Donald Trump is on the verge of being indicted by a federal grand jury in DC for his leading role in the far-ranging, multi-pronged conspiracy to subvert the 2020 election and seize extra-constitutional powers.

After losing re-election, Donald Trump tried to claim the power unto himself to ignore the law, the Constitution, and will of the people and to remain in the White House beyond the end of his term. Now at long last he is facing criminal charges for trying to usurp the constitutional order.

It was never clear – even as late as this time yesterday – that criminal charges against Trump for Jan. 6 and everything that led to it were a sure thing. Yes, the chances of a Trump indictment had been steadily rising in recent months, as the contours of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation slowly emerged. But think about where we were in early 2021 compared to now.

I keep going back to one of the stories I’m most proud of having published during my time at TPM, The Capitol Mob Was Only The Finale Of Trump’s Conspiracy To Overturn The Election:

That day in January was preceded by a series of increasingly destructive schemes launched by President Trump and his allies aiming to reverse Joe Biden’s win. Some occurred out in the open and were documented in real time … Others took place behind closed doors …

But the conspiracy started many months before, when Trump convinced his followers that only fraud could explain any election that didn’t result in his victory. As it became clear that he had lost, and not even that narrowly, Trump used that lie to propel a previously unthinkable attack on democracy. With the help of close aides, faraway operatives and admirers who needed to look no further than the President’s Twitter feed to understand what he wanted them to do, Trump tested every vulnerability in the democratic process — every weak point in the electoral system where, perhaps, someone could be convinced or bullied to ignore the will of the people.

When we hit publish on that story on Jan. 25, 2021, less than three weeks after the Capitol attack, the broad political consensus was – wrongly – that Jan. 6 was a discrete event, the real crime, the game-changer that deserved criminal investigation, public opprobrium, and a deep national self-reflection. It was being treated as sui generis, a protest that got out of hand, a political rally that unexpectedly turned into an out-of-control mob. Yes, the President may have instigated it, did nothing to stop it, and in fact praised it, but Jan. 6 was like Sept. 11 – a thunderclap under otherwise blue skies.

We, and other close observers, knew otherwise. Jan. 6 was in fact the culmination of a months-long, labyrinthian conspiracy run out of the White House and directed by the President to ensure that he would retain power no matter the results of the election. The violence of Jan. 6 – the searing images of the Capitol swathed in smoke, American flagpoles being used as weapons, and national legislators running for the their lives from a mob unleashed by the President – had a catalyzing effect. But for a time it seemed like the focus on the violence – by mainstream media outlets, Republicans, and others who had either ignored or misunderstood what led to that point – would overwhelm and marginalize the larger reckoning that was due.

As late as the summer of 2021, it was unclear whether the House select committee created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the aftermath of Jan. 6 would do more than simply focus on the Capitol attack. That July, just before the Jan. 6 committee’s first public hearing, we ran a story story titled “Does The Jan. 6 Committee Have What It Takes To Investigate The Big Lie?:

[A]s it digs into the effort to overturn the election, the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol risks being limited by too literal an interpretation of its name.

The attack didn’t start on Jan. 6, and the crime scene extends far beyond the Capitol. 

Congressional observers stressed to TPM that unless the committee takes a broad view of the conspiracy to undermine democracy in 2020 and beyond, Congress may be unintentionally laying the groundwork for more violence.

As we now know, the Jan. 6 committee eventually came through in a big way, conceiving of its role broadly and serving as not just an important public accounting of the vast Trump-led conspiracy but a crucial force in shaping public impressions of Trump’s unlawful conduct and developing a stunningly detailed factual record that supported and reinforced the criminal investigation.

When the history of this era is written, there’s a very real risk that it will collapse the past two years into something that will be unrecognizable to those of us who lived through it: It will make Trump’s reckoning look like an inevitability. It was most certainly not inevitable. The path from the Jan. 6 attack to the present was neither straight nor narrow. It was fraught, full of risk, dependent on a myriad of decisions both large and small by a vast array of characters who had to do the right thing on their own.

In truth, American democracy has been more at risk in the two years since the attack than it was during the period of Trump’s active conspiring to overthrow the election. What we do about it having happened is more important than the fact that it happened in the first place. The outcome – true accountability under the law – was never certain. But it has now arrived.

Risks do remain. Criminal trials must proceed before the next election. A Trump-stacked judiciary may stand in the way of that. Political violence remains an unprecedented threat. But the rule of law has stood up to be vindicated loudly and publicly. It’s worth celebrating and feeling a smidge of relief.

What Charges Will Trump Face?

Rolling Stone and ABC News each had Trump’s target letter read to them by people who had seen it. It reportedly refers to violations of the following federal statutes:

  • conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States;
  • deprivation of rights under color of law
  • tampering with a witness, victim or an informant

Waiting On Aileen Cannon

After yesterday’s much-anticipated hearing – which was supplanted a bit by the Trup targt letter in the Jan. 6 case – the judge in the Mar-a-Lago case looks unlikely to grant the Justice Department a December 2023 trial date, but also unlikely not to set a trial date at all, as Trump requested. She said she would set a trial date “promptly” via a written order. Stay tuned.


Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team has subpoenaed “any and all security video or security footage, or any other video of any kind, depicting or taken at or near” State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the site of vote counting in Fulton County in 2020, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting this morning based on a public records request it made.

The grand jury subpoena was dated May 31, 2023.

State Farm Arena became a focal point of the Trump team’s baseless election fraud claims, Fueled by Rudy Giuliani, the bogus conspiracy theory targeted election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss.

The Pentagon Is No Longer The World’s Largest Office Building

Surat Diamond Bourse Aerial View (credit: VaishP under CC license

The newly-opened Diamond Bourse in Surat, India has supplanted the Pentagon as the world’s largest office building after an 80-year run.

Like Morning Memo? Let us know!

Latest Morning Memo
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: