Trump indicted for trying to overturn 2020 US election
August 2, 2023 08:50 AM
Donald Trump was indicted on Tuesday over his efforts to upend the results of the 2020 US election -- the most serious legal threat yet to the former president as he campaigns to return to the White House.
It is the third criminal indictment of the 77-year-old Trump since March and charges him with three counts of conspiracy and one count of obstruction.
Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is already scheduled to go on trial in Florida in May of next year for allegedly mishandling top secret government documents.
The new charges, two of which carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison, raise the prospect of Trump being embroiled in more legal proceedings at the height of what is expected to be a bitter and divisive presidential campaign.
The indictment brought by special counsel Jack Smith accuses Trump of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding -- the January 6, 2021 joint session of Congress held to certify Democrat Joe Biden's election victory.
Trump is also accused in the 45-page indictment of seeking to disenfranchise American voters with his false claims that he won the November 2020 presidential election.
"Shortly after election day -- which fell on November 3, 2020 -- the Defendant launched his criminal scheme," the indictment, handed down by a grand jury in Washington, said.
"The purpose of the conspiracy was to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud," it said.
Smith, a former war crimes prosecutor at the Hague, said the January 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters was "an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy."
"It was fueled by lies," Smith told reporters in brief remarks.
"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."
Part of that plan, the indictment alleges, was to have then-vice president Mike Pence use his role as presiding officer over the January 6 joint session to throw out several states' votes.
Pence ultimately refused, issuing a public statement saying that he did not believe the Constitution allowed him that power.
As Trump's supporters later stormed the US Capitol, where Pence was in hiding, Trump tweeted that his vice president "didn't have the courage to do what should have been done."
- White House silence -
The White House on Tuesday maintained silence on Trump's historic indictment.
Biden, who is seeking reelection next year, continued his beach vacation in Delaware, dining out with First Lady Jill Biden before seeing the film "Oppenheimer."
Trump's campaign, meanwhile, issued a blistering statement, comparing his prosecution to "Nazi Germany in the 1930s" and stating that he had followed "advice from many highly accomplished attorneys" -- a likely line of defense at trial.
The indictment mentions six co-conspirators but none are identified and Trump, who is to be arraigned on Thursday, is the only named defendant.
The case is expected to be heard by US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, an appointee of former Democratic president Barack Obama.
Smith said he is seeking a "speedy trial."
- Trump furious -
Trump lashed out at the special counsel, calling him "deranged" and accusing him of issuing "yet another Fake Indictment" to "interfere with the presidential election."
"Why didn't they do this 2.5 years ago?" Trump said in a post on his Truth Social platform. "Why did they wait so long?
"Because they wanted to put it right in the middle of my campaign," he said. "Prosecutorial misconduct!"
Trump has repeatedly attacked the investigation as a political "witch hunt" by the Department of Justice.
Besides the classified documents charges, the former president also faces a criminal trial in New York for allegedly paying election-eve hush money to a porn star.
Georgia prosecutors are also looking into whether Trump illegally attempted to overturn the 2020 election outcome in the southern state.
As president, Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for seeking political dirt on Biden from Ukraine and over the events of January 6 but he was acquitted by the Senate both times.
Pence, who is competing against Trump in the Republican primary, said on Twitter -- now rebranded as X -- that Tuesday's indictment "serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States."
Ex-president’s legal woes
Donald Trump is now facing three criminal indictments, all filed since March -- raising the prospect that the Republican frontrunner in the 2024 White House race could end up navigating a series of trials as he campaigns.
On Tuesday, he was indicted on four federal counts in connection to his alleged efforts to interfere with the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump has already been indicted over his handling of top secret classified documents, making him the first former US president to face federal criminal charges.
The twice-impeached Trump, who is seeking to return to the White House in 2024, has also been charged in New York with making election-eve hush money payments to a porn star.
Here are the key cases involving the 77-year-old one-term president -- and others that could materialize:
- 2020 election interference -
Special Counsel Jack Smith unveiled four new charges against Trump related to efforts to overturn the election results.
Trump is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, as well as conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction of an official proceeding -- the January 6, 2021 meeting of a joint session of Congress held to certify Biden's election victory.
He is also charged with conspiracy to deny Americans the right to vote and to have one's vote counted.
"Each of these conspiracies... targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation's process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election," the indictment said.
The indictment mentions six co-conspirators but none are identified -- Trump, currently the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is the only named defendant.
Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, as Congress met to certify the presidential election results -- an assault that left at least five people dead and 140 police officers injured.
Before the Capitol attack, Trump delivered a fiery speech urging the crowd to "fight like hell."
- Classified documents -
Trump, in another indictment brought by Smith, is accused of endangering national security by holding onto top secret nuclear and defense documents after leaving the White House.
Trump kept the files -- which included records from the Pentagon, CIA and National Security Agency -- unsecured at his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida and thwarted official efforts to retrieve them, according to the indictment.
Trump was initially charged with 31 counts of "willful retention of national defense information," each punishable by up to 10 years in prison. An additional count was added last week.
He also faces charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements and other offenses.
Last week, a superseding indictment also added an extra count under the Espionage Act related to Trump allegedly retaining a classified document "concerning military activity in a foreign country."
The federal judge in the case has set a trial date of May 20, 2024, at the height of the presidential campaign.
- Stormy hush money -
A New York grand jury indicted Trump in March over hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Prosecutors say the money was paid prior to the 2016 election to silence Daniels over claims she had a tryst with Trump in 2006 -- a year after he married Melania Trump.
Late in the campaign, Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen arranged a payment of $130,000 to Daniels in exchange for her pledge of confidentiality.
That case, in which he faces 34 felony counts, is due to go to trial next March, in the middle of the Republican primary election season.
- Georgia election meddling -
Trump is also being investigated in the southern state of Georgia for pressuring officials there to overturn Biden's 2020 election victory -- incidents that were also referred to in Tuesday's federal indictment.
Evidence includes a taped phone call in which he asked Georgia's then-secretary of state to "find" enough votes to reverse the result.
The top prosecutor in Georgia's Fulton County, Fani Willis, has assembled a special grand jury that could see Trump facing conspiracy charges connected to election fraud.
In unusually public remarks, the grand jury's forewoman in February said the 23-member panel had recommended indictments of multiple people, including "certainly names that you would recognize."
She did not say whether Trump was among them.
- Other probes -
Trump was found liable recently in a civil case for sexually abusing and defaming an American former magazine columnist, E. Jean Carroll, in 1996, and ordered to pay her $5 million in damages.
In New York, the state attorney general Letitia James has filed a civil suit against Trump and three of his children, accusing them of fraud by over-valuing assets to secure loans and then under-valuing them to minimize taxes.
James is seeking $250 million in penalties as well as banning Trump and his children from serving as executives at companies in New York.
Trump has denied all wrongdoing.