Federal prosecutors have charged Donald Trump with conspiring to seize a second term after losing the 2020 election, alleging a months-long campaign of deceit and abuses that ended with him sitting idly while a violent mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol.
In a 45-page indictment unveiled Tuesday, special counsel Jack Smith charged Trump with four felony counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. The indictment also accused Trump of trying to exploit the violent Jan. 6, 2021, assault on Congress to continue his effort to cling to power.
“The attack on our nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Smith declared during a brief appearance before reporters shortly after the indictment was made public. “It was fueled by lies — lies by the defendant — targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
The indictment identified six individuals as co-conspirators in Trump’s effort to overturn the election, but none of those people were charged Tuesday. Though the alleged co-conspirators were not named, the descriptions correspond to a cabal of Trump lawyers who embraced increasingly fringe strategies as Trump’s bid to remain in power faltered. They include Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell.
Trump’s case was initially assigned to U.S. District Court Tanya Chutkan, an Obama-appointed judge who has been among the harshest critics of Jan. 6 defendants and their conduct.
The indictment describes a breathtaking, multifaceted effort by Trump to reverse his defeat to Joe Biden at the polls, one that grew increasingly desperate — and crossed into criminality — as his legal options dwindled. It depicts Trump at the apex of a wide-ranging scheme that included amplifying “knowingly false” claims about election fraud, leaning on state legislators to falsely assert that the election outcome was in doubt and assembling false slates of presidential electors to force a conflict.
When, in the weeks after Election Day, Trump’s lawsuits challenging the results foundered and state officials balked at his pressure campaign, Trump turned to the Jan. 6 session of Congress, a joint meeting presided over by his own vice president, Mike Pence. Trump began publicly and privately leaning on Pence to assert the unilateral authority to refuse to count Biden’s electoral votes in as many as seven states. Instead, Trump wanted Pence to declare the election results in doubt and ask state legislatures to consider reversing the outcome.
That effort, Smith concluded, amounted to an unlawful scheme to obstruct Congress’ constitutional duty to count electoral votes — and it laid the groundwork for the mass violence that followed, when a mob of Trump supporters, seeded with members of extremist groups and conspiracy theorists, stormed the Capitol, hundreds of them bludgeoning police officers, in an effort to prevent Congress from finalizing Biden’s victory.
Trump now faces criminal charges in three separate cases as he mounts a bid to be re-elected president in 2024. Last month, Smith’s team charged him with hoarding classified documents and obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them — charges that prosecutors expanded last week. In March, the Manhattan district attorney charged him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment to cover up an alleged affair with a porn star.
The district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, is also investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in that state, which Biden narrowly won. She is expected to announce charges this month.
Smith announced the new indictment Tuesday evening at a Justice Department satellite office — a setting intended to convey his independence from the politically appointed leadership of DOJ. About two dozen prosecutors and investigators stood in the back of a conference as their boss — who is accompanied by a 24-hour security detail — spoke.
In his stern, three-minute statement, Smith mentioned Trump by name only once and did not refer to his former office. The prosecutor called the police officers who defended the Capitol “heroes” and said charging Trump was consistent with DOJ’s efforts to pursue other crimes committed that day.
The special counsel did not respond to or acknowledge reporters’ questions, including queries about why the alleged co-conspirators remain uncharged and how the indictment might affect the 2024 election.
“Our investigation of other individuals continues,” Smith said.
The indictment tracks closely with evidence amassed by the House Jan. 6 select committee in 2021 and 2022 but adds key new wrinkles. For example, the indictment indicates that Trump called two U.S. senators at 6 p.m. on Jan. 6 — even as the riot was still raging in parts of the Capitol — in a further attempt to block Biden’s election. It also notes that, at 7 p.m., his White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, urged him to call off Republican legislators who were intent on raising objections to the election results. Trump refused, according to the charges.
The indictment also underscores the deep unease inside Trump’s campaign as he pressed his increasingly fringe plans. It describes campaign officials refusing to sign a press statement about the scheme to appoint false electors in the states. It alleges that Giuliani “falsely assured” those signing the fraudulent elector certificates in Pennsylvania that they would be used only if Trump succeeded in litigation.
The indictment also indicates that Pence kept contemporaneous notes of some interactions with Trump, including a Dec. 29, 2020, exchange in which he recalled Trump falsely telling him that the Justice Department was finding “major infractions” related to election fraud.
Trump is scheduled to appear in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon for an initial court appearance before a magistrate judge. He is expected to plead not guilty.
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