Donald Trump’s attorney John Lauro has been making the rounds in defense of his client. The former president, you may be aware, was indicted on Tuesday on charges related to his effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Lauro, like Trump, hopes to bolster the idea that this is fundamentally a political charge. Doing so means backstopping Trump’s political support — and, therefore, one of his best options for avoiding criminal sanction.
On Wednesday morning, Lauro appeared on “CBS Mornings,” where the conversation included the venue of the indictment. Trump’s efforts were coordinated from the White House and involved attempts to pressure members of Congress and his vice president, so the indictment was handed down from a grand jury in D.C.
Which, in short order, became a rhetorical point for Trump’s defenders: This thing is so stacked against Trump that they got a jury from deep-blue Washington!
Given the city’s politics, CBS’s Ed O’Keefe asked Lauro, would the Trump team seek a change of venue?
“Absolutely,” Lauro replied.
So O’Keefe asked where he was thinking.
“There’s certainly West Virginia,” Lauro said, adding that it was “close by.”
“Which is like the political opposite of Washington, D.C.,” O’Keefe noted.
“It’s much more diverse than Washington, D.C.,” Lauro replied, “which I think went 95 percent for Mr. Biden.”
Actually, 92 percent of D.C. voters supported Biden, compared with 69 percent of West Virginians who backed Trump. This is not typically how one uses the term “diversity,” however, to distinguish between gradations of overwhelming partisan support in presidential contests.
When considering diversity on other measures, it’s clear that D.C. is the more diverse geography. West Virginia’s population is overwhelmingly White and much older than that of D.C. — both characteristics that correlate to more Republican support.
Both areas are poorer than America overall, but D.C. has far more college graduates. That’s a marker of the economic divide in the city. West Virginia is much more homogenous.
Having gone over the top in assessing Lauro’s odd argument in its specifics, it’s worth addressing its broad strokes. He, like O’Keefe, is entertaining the possibility that D.C.’s politics inherently mean that a trial held in the city cannot be fair. This is a claim that has popped up repeatedly since the indictment was made public, as part of the scattershot effort to depict the indictment as partisan and flawed.
DESANTIS: ‘A D.C. jury would indict a ham sandwich and convict a ham sandwich if it was a Republican ham sandwich. I think Americans need to be able to remove cases out of D.C. I think the juries are stacked.’
— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) August 2, 2023
It is certainly true that, if you were to pick a resident at random from the city, the odds are that they supported Joe Biden in 2020. It is also true that, if you were to pick a voter at random out of the United States, the odds are that they did, too. Statistics suggest that it would take longer to randomly pick a Trump voter from D.C. than out of the country overall, yes, but it would be by no means impossible to happen upon 12 of the thousands of Trump voters who live in our nation’s capital. Easier than both of those things, of course, would be to pick out someone in either region who didn’t vote at all.
Such considerations are not new to the court system. There are processes and procedures in place to minimize the extent of bias that potential jurors have in a case. There are checks that exist to monitor any potential bias among jurors even after they’re selected. To argue that it would be impossible to find an unbiased jury in D.C. is either to argue that the judicial system is inherently unable to effectively neutralize bias or that it is intentionally unwilling to do so — which is really the argument being made here.
Some of the argumentation about the unacceptability of D.C. as a venue is probably offered out of good-faith, overwrought concern. But much of it is unquestionably not presented in good faith and, instead, is put forward to cast the entire indictment as dubious and stacked against Trump. This is the core of his political presentation about the indictments after all: they’re just trying to get him however they can. So they argue that this is manifested in the trial being held in D.C., more evidence of how the system is biased against Trump.
What’s the worst that happens? Trump is tried and convicted and he and his allies get to wave it away forever as being a product of a jury pool that they’ve already presented as illegitimate. And what’s the best that happens? The courts are responsive to the grass-roots outcry about the case and actually move the venue somewhere like West Virginia where, Trump supporters argue, the jury pool will be more favorable to Trump. The court’s efforts to minimize bias would then presumably be working in the other direction.
That’s a level deeper than we need to go, of course. When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is maligning D.C. as a venue, he’s doing so to cast Democrats as unfair and the process as tainted. It’s not more complicated than that.
Notice how this parallels the actual charges. Trump and his allies promoted the idea that his loss was, in part, a function of rampant fraud committed by Democrats … fraud centered in and around cities with large non-White populations. The vote totals in those places were suspect, just as the jury pools must be.
As it turns out, there is a very easy way in which Trump could have avoided facing a jury trial in D.C. Had he not engaged in a months-long effort out of the White House to reverse his presidential election loss in 2020, he would not have been indicted by a jury anywhere, including in D.C.
It’s not special counsel Jack Smith who determined the venue. It was Trump, through his actions.