Former President Donald Trump has been hit with four federal counts related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat in the run-up to the United States Capitol riot by his supporters on January 6, 2021.
The 77-year-old Republican was accused on Tuesday of conspiring to defraud the US, obstructing an “official proceeding” (the certification of the vote), and denying US citizens the right to vote and having one’s vote counted. Trump dismissed the charges as “fake”.
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Here are five key takeaways from the indictment:
‘Dishonesty, fraud and deceit’
The 45-page indictment, which was filed in Washington, DC by Special Counsel Jack Smith, is Trump’s third criminal indictment since March.
But even in a year of rapid-succession legal reckonings for Trump, the newest charges were stunning in their allegations that a former president assaulted the “bedrock function” of democracy.
The indictment marked the first time the defeated president, who is the early frontrunner for next year’s Republican presidential nomination, is facing legal consequences for his frantic but ultimately failed effort to cling to power.
It charges Trump with conspiring to defraud the US by preventing Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory and depriving voters of their right to a fair election.
The then-president pushed fraud claims he knew to be untrue, pressured state and federal officials – including Vice President Mike Pence – to alter the results and finally incited a violent assault on the US Capitol in a desperate attempt to undermine democracy and cling to power, prosecutors said.
The indictment describes how Trump repeatedly told supporters and others that he had won the election, despite knowing that was false, and how he tried to persuade officials, his own vice president and finally Congress to overturn the legitimate results.
Due to the “dishonesty, fraud and deceit” by Trump and some of his closest allies, the indictment says, his supporters “violently attacked the Capitol and halted the proceeding”.
Special counsel wants ‘speedy trial’
The charges stem from Smith’s sprawling investigation into allegations Trump sought to reverse his loss to Biden.
“The attack on our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” said the special counsel.
“It 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.”
The Department of Justice (DoJ) will seek a “speedy trial” for Trump, Smith said.
“My office will seek a speedy trial so that our evidence can be tested in court and judged by a jury of citizens,” he told reporters.
Trump is due in court on Thursday before US District Judge Tanya Chutkan.
‘Too late for us’
As Trump schemed to overturn the 2020 election, many of his aides and allies were under no illusion that Trump had actually won, according to the indictment.
Some aides directly refuted conspiracy theories stirred by Trump and his lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Others told him point-blank that he had lost.
“There is no world, there is no option in which you do not leave the White House (o)n January 20th,” an unnamed deputy White House counsel told Trump, according to the indictment. Another wrote in an email: “I’ll obviously hustle to help on all fronts, but it’s tough to own any of this when it’s all just conspiracy s*** beamed down from the mothership.”
But Trump continued to tell “prolific lies”, the indictment says, about the outcome of the election, even after being warned of his false statements by top government officials – citing thousands of dead voters in Georgia, an overcount in Pennsylvania and tens of thousands of noncitizen voters in Arizona. Those theories had been disputed by state and federal officials and even his own staff.
“These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false,” the indictment states.
At the same time, Trump privately acknowledged his loss. After the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged Trump to not take action on a national security issue, the former president agreed, according to the indictment.
“Yeah, you’re right, it’s too late for us,” Trump said during a January 3 meeting. “We’re going to give that to the next guy.”
All the while, he repeatedly tweeted and encouraged his supporters to come to Washington, DC on January 6.
Six suspected co-conspirators
The indictment alleges Trump enlisted six people to help him try to overturn the 2020 election. The six people are not explicitly named, but the indictment includes details that make it possible to identify most of them.
As seemingly the “Co-Conspirator 1” and “Co-Conspirator 2”, lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman are quoted from their remarks at the “Stop the Steal” rally prior to the riot urging Pence to throw out the votes of valid electors.
A third lawyer, Sidney Powell, who appears to be “Co-Conspirator 3,” filed a lawsuit in Georgia that amplified false or unsupported claims of election fraud. The indictment quotes Trump as privately conceding Powell’s claims sounded “crazy”.
Jeffrey Clark, a DoJ official who championed Trump’s false claims of election fraud, is described as “Co-Conspirator 4”.
“Co-Conspirator 5” appears to be lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, who the indictment says “assisted in devising and attempting to implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding”.
“Co-Conspirator 6” is an unknown political consultant who also assisted with the fake electors plan.
There are no known charges against the listed co-conspirators.
Giuliani aide Ted Goodman said in a statement that “every fact” the former New York City mayor had “establishes the good faith basis President Donald Trump had for the actions he took during the two-month period charged in the indictment”. Eastman’s lawyer Harvey Silverglate said his client denied any wrongdoing.
The indictment includes new details from Pence, who had fought efforts to answer questions about his role in presiding over the congressional certification.
Prosecutors cite Pence’s “contemporaneous notes” about his interactions with Trump as the former president tried to convince him to delay or reject the legitimate election results on January 6.
The indictment lists several conversations between Trump and Pence in those weeks, including some that were previously unknown. On December 25, Pence called Trump to wish him a “Merry Christmas”, prosecutors said. But Trump “quickly turned the conversation to January 6 and his request that the Vice President reject electoral votes that day”. Pence pushed back, telling Trump he did not have the authority.
In another of the calls, on January 1, Trump told Pence, “You’re too honest”, according to the indictment.