A surprising development has surfaced in the Justice Department’s investigation into the events of January 6th. As per three inside sources, the special counsel’s letter to former President Donald Trump indicates that he may be charged under an unexpected civil rights law that traces back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period.
Special Counsel Jack Smith’s communication with Trump cited three criminal statutes, including conspiracy to defraud the government and obstruction of an official proceeding, both sourced from the House January 6th committee’s criminal referral. But it was the third law mentioned that took many by surprise.
The letter referred to Section 241 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which criminalizes any conspiracy to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person exercising their constitutional rights or privileges. This law was originally introduced post-Civil War to combat the Ku Klux Klan and Southern whites who sought to prevent newly freed Black people from voting. Over time, the law has been utilized more broadly to prosecute voting fraud conspiracies.
This development puts an ironic spin on the situation. The law’s recent interpretation implies that Trump, who has unfoundedly declared the election he lost as rigged, could potentially be prosecuted for attempting to rig the election himself.
The law has been previously used in cases involving false votes or dishonest vote counts after an election, even when no specific voter could be identified as a victim. For instance, a 1950 ballot-stuffing case saw a judge affirm that every voter’s right to an honest election count is protected by the Constitution and U.S. laws. A 1974 Supreme Court ruling further reinforced this principle, maintaining that every citizen is entitled to have their vote counted fairly, free from fraudulent distortion.
The current investigation suggests Smith might be focusing on Trump and his associates’ attempts to overturn election results in several states. This includes Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where he demanded enough votes to overturn his loss, and the strategy to use false electors to cast votes for Trump in states won by President Joe Biden. Fulton County, Ga. District Attorney Fani Willis is also investigating the call, with indictments expected next month.
Georgia’s role could be crucial in applying Section 241, given Trump’s intense focus on the state, his pressure on state officials, the conspiracy theories about Fulton County, and the use of fake electors.
Some legal experts also believe that the law could be applicable to Trump inciting a mob to storm the Capitol on January 6th. It’s in line with Section 241’s historic use to combat the deprivation of voting rights through violence.
Smith’s team has also displayed interest in the case of Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman, who was compelled to flee her home due to death threats after false accusations of ballot fraud made by Trump and his allies. There are speculations that Smith is also investigating potential tampering with witnesses relevant to a federal investigation.
As this investigation unfolds, it serves as a stark reminder of the importance of upholding democratic values and ensuring the protection of every citizen’s right to cast their vote free from intimidation and fraud.