‘Afraid of losing their power’: Judge decries GOP leaders who back Trump election claims

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A federal judge delivered a blistering rebuke of Republican Party leaders Tuesday for what she said was a cynical attempt to stoke false claims of election fraud of the kind that fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said former President Donald Trump had turned his lies about the election into a litmus test for Republican candidates and that “high-ranking members of Congress and state officials” are “so afraid of losing their power” that they won’t contradict him. That fealty, she said, comes even as law enforcement and judges involved in cases related to the former president are facing unprecedented threats of violence.

It’s up to the judiciary, she added, to help draw the line against those dangers.

“The judiciary … has to make it clear: It is not patriotism, it is not standing up for America to stand up for one man — who knows full well that he lost — instead of the Constitution he was trying to subvert,” said Jackson, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama.

In addition, Jackson said, Trump and his allies are using rhetoric about the multiple criminal probes connected to Trump that contain dangerous undertones.

“Some prominent figures in the Republican Party … are cagily predicting or even outright calling for violence in the streets if one of the multiple investigations doesn’t go his way,” Jackson said.

The judge’s tough remarks came as she delivered a sentence to Jan. 6 defendant Kyle Young, who pleaded guilty to assaulting D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone in some of the most brutal violence that occurred during the attack on the Capitol. Jackson sentenced Young to 86 months in prison, one of the stiffest sentences handed down, after describing his “enthusiastic” participation in the mob violence against Fanone, including by passing a taser to another rioter who used it on Fanone’s neck. Young, she noted, was accompanied amid the mob by his 16-year-old son.

But her most notable comments were directed not at Young but at Trump and GOP leaders themselves, describing them repeatedly as so beholden to “one man” that it has become “heresy” for Republicans to contradict his claims of election fraud.

She’s not the first federal judge to rebuke Trump in the context of Jan. 6 riot prosecutions. Judge Amit Mehta lamented that many of the low-level rioters were duped by powerful figures, including Trump, into marching on the Capitol, only to suffer criminal consequences as a result. Judge Reggie Walton called Trump a “charlatan” for his conduct related to the election. And a federal judge in California, David Carter, determined that Trump’s actions related to Jan. 6 likely amounted to a criminal conspiracy to subvert the election.

But Jackson’s comments were the most stinging assessment not only of Trump but those in the upper echelons of elected GOP leadership who have echoed him. She also pushed back at claims by some Trump allies that Jan. 6 defendants had been targeted for political reasons.

“You were not prosecuted for being a Trump supporter. You were not arrested or charged and you will not be sentenced for exercising your first amendment rights,” she said to Young. “You are not a political prisoner … You were trying to stop the singular thing that makes America America, the peaceful transfer of power. That’s what ‘Stop the Steal’ meant.”

Jackson is no stranger to high-profile Trump-related matters. She oversaw the trial of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, who was charged and convicted of lying to lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. In that trial, she castigated Stone after an ally used his social media account to post an image of her that appeared inside crosshairs.

Jackson also presided over one of the criminal cases against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who pleaded guilty to financial crimes but was later accused by prosecutors of lying during his cooperation agreement.