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New charges against Trump are similar to House panel's findings, Rep. Schiff says

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump is due in court tomorrow after he was indicted on new felony charges for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Here's Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACK SMITH: The attack on our nation's Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. As described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies.

MARTÍNEZ: The former president is accused of conspiring to defraud the United States, disenfranchise voters and obstruct an official proceeding.

FADEL: But despite this third criminal indictment, Trump remains the GOP's front-runner for the 2024 presidential nomination, and he certainly can count on his supporters, like 59-year-old Jackie Keys (ph) of Lansing, Mich., who is buying a narrative presented with no evidence that Trump is a victim of politics.

JACKIE KEYS: I think it's unfair. I think that the Democratic Party is weaponizing every branch of government that they can to keep him from even being able to run.

MARTÍNEZ: For some Democratic voters, this might feel like, to borrow a phrase, deja vu all over again, as many have formed their opinions about the former president long before yesterday's news. This includes 48-year-old Shannon Mulligan (ph) of Baltimore.

SHANNON MULLIGAN: I don't know that it's going to make much of a difference. I mean, he doesn't care.

MARTÍNEZ: It's an opinion echoed by 75-year-old retiree Candace Willmore (ph) of Lansing, Mich.

CANDACE WILLMORE: I try not to listen to too much about him, but I thought he had already been indicted. So how many times is he going to be indicted?

FADEL: How many times is he going to be indicted? That's voices of voters. Trump's attorney is calling this indictment an attack on free speech. To discuss these felony charges connected to Trump's attempts to undermine democracy in this country, we're joined by Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He served on the House January 6 committee that investigated the attacks on the U.S. Capitol, including its lead-up. Good morning, Congressman.

ADAM SCHIFF: Good morning.

FADEL: You know, you served on the committee that investigated the attacks on the Capitol. This indictment, is this what you wanted the outcome to be?

SCHIFF: Well, I think this was the outcome that the facts and the evidence would lead to. A lot of the charges in the indictment very much read like our report. There was, you know, I think new information as well from witnesses like Vice President Pence, who refused to testify before our committee, or others like the White House counsel Cipollone, who refused to answer certain questions. But apart from that, much of these facts came out of our investigation. Much of the charges reflect what we referred to the Justice Department. I think the special counsel was conservative in his charging decisions, not charging everything he might have, but rather charging those that he thought most easily subject to proof. It will already be a challenging enough trial, and I think using that kind of charging strategy makes a lot of sense.

FADEL: You know, we just heard from a few voters, and all of them indicated that the indictment did not change their opinion, good or bad, of the former president. Does that surprise you at all?

SCHIFF: It doesn't surprise me that people would say that. I do think at the end of the day, though, it does affect people's attitudes as they learn more about the president - the former president - as they learn more about his corrupt conduct, about how close we came to losing our democracy. I think it can't help but shape people's opinion. So regardless of what people may think at this moment, as the trial approaches, as new facts come to light, I do think it influences people. And we have to hope that it does because our democracy should be informed by the actions people take and, in this case, by the potentially criminal actions that one of the candidates has taken.

FADEL: But what the polls have consistently shown is that with every indictment, Trump's popularity seems to rise. And this indictment lays out a pretty damning case, if proven in court, that Trump knowingly and repeatedly lied to try to overturn the election, exploited the violence on January 6 to further those goals and was determined to stay in office knowing he lost. And yet his supporters - many of them see him as a victim. If a huge portion of the country buys this narrative, what do these indictments mean for the election and for the country?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, first of all, I think we have to evaluate the indictments not on their impact on an election. The purpose of these charges is to bring justice. It's to affirm a system in which you're held to account by the rule of law, no matter who you are, whether you're the rich and powerful or you're an ordinary citizen. So they're important in their own right.

But I do believe they will have an impact on people's judgment, that notwithstanding - his base rallying around him temporarily and momentarily. I think as the country learns more about the conspiracies he was engaged in to defraud them of the election, to deprive them of their right to vote, of his attempts to obstruct the transfer - the peaceful transfer of power during the joint session. It does shape attitudes, and it should.

These are some of the most serious crimes ever charged in terms of an effort to interfere with the transfer of power. And so I do think there's the kind of rallying around him at the moment. But the constant drumbeat of his legal problems, a constant drumbeat of new facts exposed to the public about his unfitness for office, we have to hope in a democracy has an impact.

FADEL: You know, we spoke to Ty Cobb, a former Trump lawyer, recently on this program, and he said that Trump has to win next year's election if he wants to avoid going to jail. Would you agree with that assessment?

SCHIFF: I think that's why he's running, or at least a large part of why he's running is to stay one step ahead of the jailer. He has to hope that if he's elected, that he can somehow either pardon himself or use undue influence on the Justice Department to make the charges go away. And in this area, we see that the entire American public - and not just the jury that will sit in the courtroom - the entire American public will have a say in whether justice is served.

If the American people want to affirm our system of justice and make sure that we don't, again, have a president willing to subvert it for his personal interests or to attain power, then the American people are going to need to make sure that he never gets near the reins of power. So I do think that's a big part of his running. I think it was a big part of his motivation to run again, as well as money. Donald Trump believes this is a financial windfall for him.

FADEL: What if he does win?

SCHIFF: Well, if he does win, honestly, I don't know what our democracy looks like in a few years. We saw a lot of the guardrails come down during his first presidency. Should he ever get that chance again, I think our country will be unrecognizable. And that's not something I think anyone should want to contemplate. I don't think it's something that will ever come to fruition, but it's going to mean people have to work really hard to get the facts out there and to make the case that our democracy is more important than any personal like or dislike of Donald Trump.

FADEL: Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, thank you for your time.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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