Donald Trump has been charged over an alleged plot to overthrow the 2020 election, adding to his growing list of legal woes.
The ex-president now faces four counts of violating three sections of the federal criminal code as he and a group of allies schemed to find a way to somehow keep him in the White House for a second term despite losing to Joe Biden.
Grand jurors in Washington DC have spent months hearing evidence and witness testimony as part of a long-running probe into Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the January 6 attack on the Capitol which sprung from those efforts.
On Monday they approved the indictment against the Republican on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an official proceeding, and deprivation of rights under colour of law on Tuesday after a four-hour presentation by Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith and his team of prosecutors.
In a statement to reporters shortly after the indictment was unsealed, Mr Smith said the January 6 attack was “an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy” that was “fueled by lies, 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”.
Mr Smith praised the law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol that day as “heroes ... patriots and they are the very best of us” who “put their lives on the line to defend who we are as a country and as a people” and “defended the very institutions and principles that define the United States”.
He also said the case against Mr Trump is part of the Justice Department’s efforts to “ensuring accountability for those criminally responsible for what happened that day” and said his office would seek a speedy trial of Mr Trump, who was summoned to appear in court to answer the charges on 3 August at 4.00 pm at the E Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington.
The indictment alleges that the ex-president engaged in a “conspiracy to defraud the United States by using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit to impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful federal government function by which the results of the presidential election are collected, counted, and certified by the federal government,” conspired to “corruptly obstruct and impede the January 6 congressional proceeding at which the collected results of the presidential election are counted and certified,” and conspired against “conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted”.
Prosecutors allege that Mr Trump had six co-conspirators, including five attorneys.
According to the indictment, Mr Trump and his co-conspirators “co-conspirators used knowingly false claims of election fraud to get state legislators and election officials to subvert the legitimate election results and change electoral votes for the Defendant’s opponent, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., to electoral votes for the Defendant”.
They further allege that Mr Trump “Defendant pushed officials in certain states to ignore the popular vote; disenfranchise millions of voters; dismiss legitimate electors; and ultimately, cause the ascertainment of and voting by illegitimate electors” in his favour.
Prosecutors also cite the efforts by Mr Trump and his allies to cause fake electoral college certificates to be submitted for use by then-vice president Mike Pence to hijack the certification of the election and declare himself and Mr Trump the winners despite having lost.
When Mr Pence refused, prosecutors allege that Mr Trump and co-conspirators “repeated knowingly false claims of election fraud to gathered supporters, falsely told them that the Vice President had the authority to and might alter the election results, and directed them to the Capitol to obstruct the certification proceeding and exert pressure on the Vice President to take the fraudulent actions he had previously refused”.
They also allege that Mr Trump and his allies “exploited” the January 6 attack on the Capitol “disruption by redoubling efforts to levy false claims of election fraud and convince Members of Congress to further delay the certification based on those”.
Continuing, they say Mr Trump and his co-conspirators “attempted to use the power and authority of the Justice Department to conduct sham election crime investigations and to send a letter to the targeted states that falsely claimed that the Justice Department had identified significant concerns that may have impacted the election outcome” as they “sought to advance the Defendant’s fraudulent elector plan by using the Justice Department’s authority to falsely present the fraudulent electors as a valid alternative to the legitimate electors”.
A significant portion of evidence against the ex-president appears to come from testimony given by Mr Pence, the former vice president. A section of the indictment recounts several private conversations between Mr Trump and Mr Pence, including one in which Mr Trump complained that Mr Pence was “too honest” after he told the then-president that he lacked the power to overturn the election.
The latest charges against Mr Trump are some of the most serious allegations levied against the twice-impeached, now thrice-indicted former president, and are just the first of two possible sets of charges that he could face as a result of his efforts to unlawfully reverse the result of his defeat nearly three years ago.
A separate grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia has also been hearing evidence about efforts by Mr Trump and his allies to pressure Peach State officials into reversing his loss to Mr Biden there.
While District Attorney Fani Willis hasn’t confirmed that an indictment will be handed down this week, her earlier statements and security measures surrounding the Fulton County courthouse indicate that movement is imminent in the case.
The addition of a second federal indictment to the legal troubles facing Mr Trump is certain to complicate his quest to return to the White House by winning next year’s presidential election.
He is scheduled to be tried in two separate criminal cases against him, including on the federal charges against him and co-defendants Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira which are pending in a Florida federal court as a result of their alleged roles in the ex-president’s alleged unlawful retention of national defence information and obstruction of justice.
A separate case against him for allegedly falsifying business records in his former home state of New York is set to go to trial in March 2024, while the federal case in Florida is scheduled for trial in late May 2024.
The ex-president has maintained that the multiple investigations against him amount to “election interference” and a politically motivated “hoax,” and has repeatedly attacked the prosecutors investigating him in extremely personal terms.
These latest charges against Mr Trump are the result of an eight-month investigation by Mr Smith, who was appointed by US Attorney General Merrick Garland in November 2022 to supervise a pair of probes focusing on the ex-president’s conduct.
In addition to investigating the ex-president’s alleged unlawful retention of national defence information, Mr Smith was also handed control long-running probe into the events leading up to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, when a riotous mob of Mr Trump’s supporters stormed the seat of the US legislature in hopes of blocking the final certification of his loss to Mr Biden.
While prosecutors in the office of the US Attorney for the District of Columbia have charged more than 1,000 people for various crimes committed during the riot — including rare seditious conspiracy charges against members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers extremist groups — the charges against Mr Trump [and his co-defendants] are the first to be brought against anyone for the efforts to overturn the election which arguably led to the Capitol attack.
Mr Trump was impeached for inciting the attack with just days left in his presidency, and though a majority of senators voted to convict him, they fell short of the two-thirds supermajority required to sustain a conviction.
But the ex-president and his co-defendants are not being charged for organising, inciting or fomenting what was the worst attack on the Capitol since British troops set it ablaze in 1814.
Instead, the charges against them are for crimes which prosecutors allege to have been committed as Mr Trump sought to employ a variety of strategies by which he and his allies thought he could reverse or override the will of voters, including pressuring state legislatures to use their own authority to replace swing state electors for Mr Biden with electors for Mr Trump.
Mr Trump and his allies also pushed state officials, most notably Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, to act to decertify Mr Biden’s wins in swing states, according to prosecutors.
Figures connected to Mr Trump’s campaign also spearheaded an effort to submit forged electoral college certificates to the National Archives and to the Senate, while Mr Trump personally sought to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence into unilaterally throwing out the legitimate electoral certificates for Mr Biden in favour of the forged ones listing Mr Trump as the winner.
The case currently pending against him in the Southern District of Florida arose out of a criminal referral from the National Archives and Records Administration after officials discovered documents bearing classification markings in a set of 15 boxes which the agency had retrieved from Mr Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago, the 1920’s-era Palm Beach mansion turned private beach club where he maintains his primary residence and post-presidential office.
Investigators later discovered more than 100 additional documents with classification markings during an 8 August 2021 search of Mr Trump’s property, and in June charged him with unlawfully withholding the documents from the government and obstructing efforts to determine whether all the classified documents in his possession had been returned.
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