It is difficult to fathom why federal prosecutors waited four years to bring charges against Douglass Mackey, a.k.a. Ricky Vaughn, and it is inconceivable that they did so by dispensing with the requirements of a grand jury. The only explanation is that this is a political prosecution. It needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.
Mackey was arrested in Florida this week on charges that he violated 18 U.S.C. Section 241, a statute that makes it a federal offense carrying up to ten years in prison for, among other things, conspiring to “injure … any person … in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” As statutes go, it is not a model of clarity.
The facts supporting the claim are, according to the criminal complaint filed by the government, as follows: Mackey and others agreed to try to suppress voter turnout for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by creating social media posts that encouraged people to cast their ballots for Clinton by means of a text message. A person doing so would be wasting their effort. You cannot cast a ballot by text message. Presumably, a person who cast such a ballot would not then turn up at the polling place, and their vote would be lost.
As political trickery, the plot is sheer genius. As P.T. Barnum once noted, there’s a sucker born every minute. If there are people stupid enough to fall for this, well, I suppose they didn’t cast lawful ballots. One wonders whether a person gullible enough to fall for this scam ought to be voting in the first instance, but we lack, of course, any standards for determining who can and cannot vote.
But here’s a shocker. This “crime” took place four years ago. Why the delay in bringing the charges until after the 2020 election, and on the cusp of an impeachment trial in which claims of electoral fraud will be raised? It reeks of partisan misdirection.
More shocking is that this prosecution, a felony charge carrying a term of imprisonment of up to ten years, was not apparently presented to a grand jury. Under the federal constitution, a defendant has a right to grand jury consideration of charges before being dragged through the mud of a public scorn.
Federal prosecutors can have a person arrested without indictment, they proceed by way of a criminal complaint, a document summarizing why there is a reasonable basis to believe the defendant has committed a crime. But complaints usually issue under conditions of urgency, when it is impractical to present a case to a grand jury in a timely manner. That simply is not the case here. Mr. Mackey should insist on his case being presented to a grand jury.
Why would the feds proceed in such a reckless manner?
They are using this criminal complaint as leverage. They will seek to negotiate with Mackey. If he talks to them about the identity of his co-conspirators, then he can cut a deal that might well spare him prison. It appears from the complaint filed against Mackey that the feds don’t have enough information about who his co-conspirators were. All eyes on Mackey now: Does he talk and walk, or does he stand firm and fight? It may well be the feds can’t make a conspiracy claim here without the identity of an actual co-conspirator delivered to them by a participant. Put another way, Mackey is mere bait, or chum; he’s being used in an effort to tee up the real targets.
The choice is his.
He has a lot worth fighting over.
Any crime consists of elements, or parts, that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a person to be convicted. At a minimum, the elements of this offense are: 1) entering into a conspiracy with others; 2) injuring a person, and; 3) injuring that person in the free exercise or enjoyment of a right guaranteed under federal law.
What should the defense be focused on?
How are the feds going to prove a conspiracy? This isn’t rocket science. Follow the internet threads. They either will, or will not, point to discernable individuals who can be proven to have used the devices associated with their names. This is work of infinite patience. It also signals why the feds need Mackey as a witness. It’s one thing to follow breadcrumbs to the door of a person’s home; it’s an entirely different thing to prove that the person opened their door and invited someone in for an inculpatory chat.
Was there really an injury to a person?
Who are the 4,900 people who allegedly texted their votes away? For all I know, each of these persons is themselves guilty of trying to cast multiple votes. Do we know whether these folks tried to cast an electronic ballot and then went to the polling place itself? A person motivated enough to follow political issues on Twitter is probably motivated enough to go to the polling place.
Finally, and this is the jaw dropper: Challenge whether there is a federal Constitutional right to vote. No case has yet declared so, as odd and counterintuitive as that may sound. Election laws are creatures of state law. Yes, the Constitution says that a person cannot be denied the right to vote once they reach the age of 18. But all that means is that the state cannot deny a person the right to vote once they reach that age.
Vague criminal statutes are dangerous. They provide no notice to defendants about what is, and is not, prohibited. They give to prosecutors a right to use their discretion in a nonreviewable way about whether to prosecute, and, for that reason alone, statutes can be constitutionally infirm. The statute in this case, 18 U.S.C. 241 is vague as applied. Mackey’s lawyers ought to tee that issue up immediately.
The federal complaint reeks of dishonesty. The name of the politicians the scam was to benefit and hurt are deleted. But we know the beneficiary is Donald Trump. Mr. Mackey’s political views are deleted, but we learn by today’s reporting that he was a “white nationalist.” This prosecution, one of the first under the Biden administration, is but the first in what is likely to be a tsunami of vindictive efforts to silence those whose views don’t comport with the new administration's. It's not right to be white, unless you confess whiteness something akin to a crime.
I hope Mackey fights, and does not cave in and succumb to fear and the blandishments of prosecutors threatening even more charges unless he cooperates.
From a distance, it’s obvious what the game is here. Use Mackey like a drug-dealing mule, the low-hanging fruit in a wider conspiracy; terrify him into naming names so that more valuable targets – the ideological kingpins -- can be targeted and prosecuted. Are we defunding the police and emptying prisons so that penal institutions can be transformed into political re-education centers? It looks that way.
Mackey ought to hold his ground, and then sue the federal government for vindictive prosecution once these cases are, as they will be if intelligently opposed, dismissed.