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Donald Trump's lawyer claims efforts to overturn 2020 election were only 'aspirational,' not criminal

Ken Tran

WASHINGTON – John Lauro, one of Donald Trump’s attorneys in the federal case over his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, vehemently defended the former president against allegations Trump knowingly spread false claims of election fraud to remain in power and claimed Trump's efforts were merely "aspirational," not criminal.

“The defense is quite simple,” Lauro said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “President Trump believed in his heart of hearts that he had won that election.”

Trump’s defense team has argued the free speech protections in the First Amendment shield Trump from the charges outlined in the indictment, which accuse him of a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election and obstruct the certification of electors.

“He had every right to speak about the important issues that were taking place after the election,” Lauro said.

Lauro took aim at Trump’s pressure campaign on election officials and Vice President Mike Pence to interfere in the election, a key strategy behind what prosecutors allege is Trump’s conspiracy. Lauro said Trump’s requests were just “aspirational.”

Referring to Trump’s now-infamous phone call in 2021 with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger where Trump appeared to threaten him with a criminal charge and asked him to “find 11,780 votes,” Lauro argued it was just an "ask" from Trump.

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Attorney John Lauro exits Brooklyn federal court following a news conference on Aug. 15, 2007, in New York. Donald Trump's legal team is characterizing his indictment in the special counsel's 2020 election interference investigation as an attack on the former president's right to free speech. But prosecutors say the case is not merely about Trump's lies but also about the efforts he took to subvert the election.

“That wasn’t a threat at all,” Lauro said. “That was an aspirational ask. He is entitled to petition even state government.”

Lauro also chalked up Trump’s attempts to pressure Pence into rejecting the certification of electors on Jan. 6, 2021 as “aspirational” on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“What President Trump did not do is direct Vice President Pence to do anything. He asked him in an aspirational way,” Lauro said. “Asking is covered by the First Amendment.”

But it is unclear how Trump’s defense will hold up. The 45-page indictment handed down last week emphasizes Trump had a First Amendment right to say whatever he so desired about the election. Prosecutors are instead taking aim at Trump’s specific attempts to overturn the election results in various battleground states and obstruct the certification of electors on Jan. 6, 2021.

“The defendant had a right, like every American to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud during the election and that he had won,” read the indictment.

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This artist sketch depicts former President Donald Trump, center, conferring with defense lawyer Todd Blanche, left, during his appearance at the Federal Courthouse in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023, as Trump defense lawyer John Lauro faces U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya. Special Prosecutor Jack Smith sits at far left. Trump pleaded not guilty in WashingtonÕs federal court to charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election.
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