Often when it comes to Donald Trump, America finds itself in new territory.
No other president has ever been impeached twice. No president has ever been charged with a crime, only then to remain the leading candidate of their party.
Once again the nation finds itself with no precedent after Trump was charged with four counts over his role in the US Capitol riot, accused of intentionally spreading lies about the outcome of the 2020 race that he knew to be false.
“The defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway — to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, to create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger,” said the indictment unsealed on Tuesday in Washington DC. Six other unnamed individuals were also charged, believed to be the lawyers who helped hatch his his desperate plot to hang onto power.
This was the third indictment for the 77-year-old Trump – there is another still to come from prosecutors in Georgia – but it is by far the most serious, even compared to claims he held onto classified documents.
For the charges – conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights – go to the very heart of the country’s democratic system – the peaceful transfer of power.
America is often a far-from perfect democracy, but the majority feel pride that in over the centuries there was never an attempt to hang on illegally.
That is until Jan 6 2021, when hundreds of Trump’s supporters stormed the federal legislature after he told them in a fiery “speech” to “fight like hell.”
He was so determined to remain in power, the charges said, he pushed conspiracies that targeted a “bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election”. He pressured Vice President Mike Pence and “exploited” the attack by his supporters, it added.
While some supporters will also dismiss these charges as they have the other, today’s events do nothing to help Trump with moderate Republicans or independents.
What does this mean? Is Trump going to go to jail? What about the 2024 presidential election?
The short answer is we don’t know. Each previous time Trump was indicted he saw his poll numbers soar. At the moment, a poll by the New York Time puts him a full 37 points clear of his nearest rival, Florida governor Don DeSantis.
Trump is already trying to raise money on the back of these latest charges, telling supporters in an email: “Their only hope is to try and send me to JAIL for the rest of my life.”
Is America going to hold a presidential election while one of the candidates is being tried? Indeed, it may. And remember, there is nothing in the constitution to say someone cannot serve as president from a a jail cell.
Many believe much of Trump’s motivation for running for the presidency again was to provide some legal protection against charges like this.
If he wins, he can pardon himself. If he loses the primary to a Republican, that individual can do so if they makes it to the Oval Office.
His lawyers are trying to delay things for as long as they can, to let the drama play out.
But Trump may not be getting it his way.
“In this case, my office will seek a speedy trial so that our evidence can be tested in court and judged by a jury of citizens,” special counsel Jack Smith said in a brief statement.
Donald Trump needs to stay sharp. He is due in court in Washington DC as soon as Thursday afternoon.