Trump back in D.C., not as president but as criminal defendant
Domenic Santana of Miami, Fla. demonstrates outside the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 3, 2023, ahead of the arraignment of former President Donald Trump on federal charges relating to efforts to overturn the 2020 election. | Francis Chung / POLITICO via AP

WASHINGTON—As Donald Trump strode into federal court in D.C. to formally plead “not guilty” to charges that he attempted to end democracy and nullify the U.S. Constitution two and a half years ago, crowds gathered nearby and from coast to coast to rally for democracy and keep the pressure on for justice to be delivered against him and his co-conspirators.

The crowds and a press conference in D.C., and rallies there, in Chicago, New York, and dozens of other cities were for two purposes, as outlined by D.C. speaker Hyman Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a former federal prosecutor.

One was to show support for the Justice Department and its investigation and indictment of Trump. The other was to warn that “if you let it”—Trump’s attempt to overthrow the Constitution—“become accepted, our democracy breaks down.”

Public Citizen organized the conference and the demonstrations, which assembled the Our Freedoms, Our Votes coalition. They all occurred on Aug. 3, the day that, for the first time in history, a former president was in court to be arraigned for an attempted coup. He was ordered to surrender to the court only two days after Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith unveiled a detailed grand jury indictment of Trump. Dozens of groups are in the coalition.

“We hope this event is the beginning” of many similar demonstrations in coming months, Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, said in an interview after the press conference.

“The next step is mobilizing our members with events all around the country and paying attention to the next indictment, in Georgia,” expected by the end of August, Gilbert added.

That indictment would focus on Trump’s attempt to steal Georgia’s electoral votes in the 2020 balloting by ordering Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find,” i.e. make up out of whole cloth, enough popular votes to let former Republican Oval Office occupant Trump carry the state.

The D.C. press conference, out on the National Mall, was just three blocks away from the courthouse where Trump entered his plea. But it was light years away in mood: Speeches and talks with print and TV reporters under the Mall’s trees versus dueling crowds under a hot sun—with more Trump foes than friends—outside the courthouse door.

The repeated chant there: “Lock him up!” a variation—only the gender was changed—of Trump’s demand to his crowds about Democratic foe Hillary Clinton seven years ago.

The peaceful press conference was also several blocks physically but light-years away in the mood from the site of Trump’s insurrection. His legions stormed the Capitol that January day. Now, the building stood silent and serene, looming over the press conference speakers’ shoulders.

This courtroom artist’s illustration shows Trump in the docket for his Aug. 3 arraignment on charges related to his attempted coup of Jan. 6, 2021. | AP

“Donald Trump unleashed an attack on American democracy, with insurrectionists and the 147 [congressional] Republicans as his co-conspirators,” declared Rashad Thomas, legislative director for End Citizens United, referring to the lawmakers who stuck with Trump in refusing to certify Joe Biden’s election to the White House—even after the Trumpite hordes had invaded.

“No one is above the law,” Thomas said, in a theme all the speakers repeated.

“We’ll be taking on this issue” of nobody being above the law “head on, discussing the crimes he’s being indicted for,” Gilbert said of her group and its allies. “They have to do with the attempt to subvert American democracy. We had an armed violent attack” on the Capitol “and it’s traced back to Donald Trump.”

“If he can get away with this, others can as well,” warned National Organization for Women President and CEO Christian Nunes after she spoke to the crowd. “We have to draw a line in the sand and let Trump and his associates know this is not acceptable.”

She said NOW would mobilize its chapters nationwide to get that message out in advance of next year’s presidential election. Trump currently leads other Republican hopefuls by double digits in party opinion polls and few Republican officeholders dare oppose his lying mantra of a stolen election.

But Svante Myrick, president of People for the American Way, summed up the key point of the D.C. press conference, the crowd at the courthouse, and the demonstrations elsewhere.

“The only thing more dangerous than arraigning a former president for his crimes is allowing a president who attempted to subvert our democracy to get away with it,” he said.

The four counts for which Trump was indicted this week are the most important of an incredible total of 78 counts in three upcoming court trials around the country. They are also the most serious ever filed against an individual by the Justice Department in U.S. history.

The nation can breathe at least one sigh of relief now that the Justice Department is no longer run by Trump. He was in charge of the department the day mobs destroyed the Capitol, breaking windows and rampaging through the halls as they hunted down Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Despite all that, there were no mass arrests that day.

When the Brazilian Capitol was similarly attacked earlier this year by supporters of their ousted right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, police arrested them on the spot, handcuffed thousands of the rioters, and loaded them directly onto buses. On the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, none of that happened. Most of the demonstrators were simply walked out of the Capitol and went home.

Since then, a different story emerged under a Justice Department led by the independent Merrick Garland with the successful prosecution of many hundreds of the rioters and with so many of them sitting now in jail. And this week, their leader was in court where he, too, will have to answer for his crimes.

Trump, in his own press conference after entering “not guilty” pleas, denied he broke the law. Instead, he repeated his refrain that the federal indictment, handed down by a grand jury of D.C. citizens, was part of a Democratic “witch hunt,” without addressing the charges themselves.

In the evening, he defiantly tweeted that when he is back in office after the 2024 election, “it will be our turn.” He was signaling once again a view he shares with fascist dictators of the past that politics is nothing more than a fight to decide who has the raw power to rule over the people, democracy be damned.

The grand jury indictment, however, spells out in detail that it was Trump who tried to steal the election, and democracy with it—a point Smith made two days before in his brief press conference unveiling that body’s decision and, more importantly, in his 45-page indictment.

One of the Trump defenses, it is said, will be that he relied on the advice of lawyers. The evidence gathered by Smith shows that to be false. Countless top advisers, among them many lawyers, told Trump he did not win the election and that the paths he was pursuing to hold onto office were illegal. Trump spurned their advice and searched until he could find lawyers who would agree with him. That in no way constitutes legitimate reliance on the advice of lawyers.

The bad news for Trump is that the judge will decide on a trial date on Aug. 28 and possibly go with a date in January or February, in time for voters to see the trial unfold before they go out to vote. With Smith having set it up with only one defendant, Donald Trump, there is far less reason to put a trial off for many months, which, of course, is the goal of the Trump defense. Smith has told the court he is “ready to go now.”

The judge warned Trump at his arraignment Thursday that if he committed any more crimes after she released him, he would be violating the conditions of his bail and that she would put him in jail until the day of the trial. Aware of his law-breaking previously, she also warned him that any attempt to influence witnesses or jurors would also land him in jail.

Although this is a sad day in the history of America, many feel a sense of satisfaction that justice is finally being done. All the American people have cause to be glad that a former president not concerned about their most basic rights now has to answer for his crimes. A normal life can never be restored to Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, the African-American poll workers in Georgia whose lives have been ruined because a former president accused them of violating the law, however. But now at least they know he will have to answer for his crimes against them.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.