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Prosecutors link Trump to violence on Jan. 6

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The federal election interference case against former President Trump is coming into sharper focus. Lawyers for Trump had asked the judge to remove mentions of what happened on January 6, 2021, because they say it could inflame the jury. But prosecutors say Trump is responsible for the violence that day, and they're sharing new details about how they intend to prove that. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is following the case and joins us now to talk more about it. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So this is the case in Washington, D.C. - right? - where Trump faces four felony charges, including conspiracy to defraud the federal government. I know there's been a lot of back and forth in court filings. What has been happening?

JOHNSON: We're getting a preview of the battles that are going to be taking place in and out of court over the next several months, and it's all centered on how rioters disrupted the peaceful transfer of power nearly three years ago at the Capitol. Donald Trump's lawyers say there's not a shred of evidence that he caused the mob to attack law enforcement that day. Remember, about 140 police suffered injuries, some very serious ones. But prosecutors say Trump is just trying to distance himself from all that mayhem. They say he directed an angry crowd toward the Capitol, and it was the culmination of his alleged conspiracy to overturn the election and obstruct the certification. They say Trump's actions on January 6 are important signals of his motive and intent.

CHANG: OK. And how are the special counsel and his team going to try to prove that when this case goes to trial next year?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Prosecutors offered some of the first clues about the shape of their case in court papers. They're going to use video evidence to show how Trump encouraged the crowd at the rally to go to the Capitol starting 15 minutes into his speech that day. They have testimony, photos and geolocation evidence - essentially, cellphone pings - to show that individual Trump supporters listened to him and then went on to beat up police and breach the Capitol. Another facet of this case is how Trump allegedly pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, to upend the certification. Mary McCord is a law professor at Georgetown. Here's what she told me about that.

MARY MCCORD: I think one of the most material things that he did during that time was his 2/24 tweet about Mike Pence, essentially arguing to all of his followers that Mike Pence did not have the courage to do what needed to be done, and that was while he knew that the Capitol was under attack.

JOHNSON: Prosecutors say they plan to use testimony and video about Trump's words and how the mob chanted they wanted to hang Mike Pence after Trump tweeted about him.

CHANG: OK. So there are some early clues from the Justice Department about how he intend - how they intend to structure this trial. What have you learned from Trump's lawyers about his defense?

JOHNSON: Trump's lawyers said in court papers this week that the former president called for the rally to be peaceful and patriotic. They blasted the special counsel and the Biden administration for prosecuting Trump while he's running to return to the White House in 2024. And they say they're going to file more court papers further all along down the road to try to prevent a jury from hearing evidence about the violence the mob used at the Capitol on January 6 - beating police with flagpoles and bike racks. Trump's lawyers say most of the crowd at the rally on January 6 did behave peacefully.

CHANG: And this trial is scheduled to begin in D.C. in early March, right? Like, how likely is that date to hold, you think?

JOHNSON: Trump is really trying to delay this case until after the election. The judge has been pretty firm about the March trial date, but Trump has signaled he may appeal certain issues if the appeals court and the Supreme Court weigh in. That actually could push back this trial.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.