Federal prosecutors have charged Donald Trump over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in a desperate attempt to stay in power, the latest criminal case before the former president that comes just weeks after he was charged with retaining national defense information.
The indictment, filed in federal district court in Washington, charges Trump with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.
Over the course of 45 pages, the indictment brought by the special counsel Jack Smith outlined in stark detail how Trump and his allies knowingly spread false allegations of election fraud, convened fraudulent electors and attempted to block the certification of the election on January 6.
The indictment also listed six co-conspirators who played central roles in the plot to keep Trump in office. While they were unnamed, the descriptions of five of the six matched those of the Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, John Eastman, Ken Chesebro as well as the former US justice department official Jeff Clark.
“Despite having lost, the defendant was determined to remain in power,” the indictment says. “So for more than two months following election day on November 3, 2020 the defendant spread lies that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that he actually won. These claims were false and the defendant knew they were false.”
“But the defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway – to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create and intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of elections.”
The charges marked the first time Trump has faced criminal charges for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. They also have come at an extraordinary moment in American politics – an abrupt accounting of an attempted coup. It is also the first time a US president has faced criminal charges for trying to overturn an election.
The indictment described a sprawling conspiracy which, at its core, involved Trump and his co-conspirators organizing fake slates of electors in order to dupe the then vice-president, Mike Pence, into using them to falsely suggest the outcome of the 2020 election had been in doubt.
To accomplish that goal, Trump tried to use the justice department to open “sham election fraud investigations” and repeatedly tried to co-opt Pence into rejecting electoral college votes for Joe Biden in a desperate effort to stop his election win certification, the indictment said.
When those avenues failed, Trump sought to further obstruct the certification and exploited the January 6 Capitol attack by redoubling efforts to push false claims of election fraud and convince members of Congress to continue to delay the certification, the indictment said.
Some of the strongest evidence for Trump’s intent to obstruct the congressional certification appears to have come from Pence himself, through testimony as well as previously unknown “contemporaneous notes” that were turned over to the grand jury during the investigation.
On Tuesday, Pence said Trump was entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but said the indictment underscored why Trump should not return to office.
“Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the constitution should never be president of the United States,” he said in a statement. “On January 6, former president Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the constitution and always will.”
The case will be overseen by the US district court judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee who has developed a record of handing down some of the longest criminal sentences against defendants charged with storming the Capitol in the January 6 attack, beyond prosecutors’ recommendations.
In 2021, Chutkan was the judge who rejected Trump’s attempt to block the House January 6 select committee investigating the Capitol riot from gaining access to presidential records. “Presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president,” she wrote at the time.
Speaking at justice department headquarters in Washington, Smith encouraged all Americans to read the indictment “in full”. He pledged his office would seek a speedy trial for Trump.
“The attack on our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021 was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. As described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies,” he said. “Lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the US government, the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
“Our investigation of other individuals continues,” he said.
Trump, who leads the Republican primary field for president in 2024, attacked his latest indictment in a lengthy statement from his Bedminster club in New Jersey.
“This is nothing more than the latest corrupt chapter in the continued pathetic attempt by the Biden Crime Family and their weaponized Department of Justice to interfere with the 2024 Presidential Election,” Trump said.
“Why did they wait two and a half years to bring these fake charges, right in the middle of President Trump’s winning campaign for 2024? Why was it announced the day after the big Crooked Joe Biden scandal broke out from the Halls of Congress?”
The latest charges compound the mounting legal peril for Trump, after he was indicted earlier this year in Miami for illegally retaining classified documents, and in New York for paying hush money to an adult film star before the 2016 election.
Trump is also expected to face state charges in Georgia over Trump’s efforts there to reverse his defeat to Joe Biden in the 2020 election. The Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, has signaled her intent to file multiple indictments around the first two weeks of August.
The White House did not immediately issue a statement addressing the charges on Tuesday. Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, arrived to see a movie, the Christopher Nolan film Oppenheimer, while on vacation in Delaware shortly after the charges were announced.