Former President Trump was indicted Tuesday by a Washington grand jury on charges stemming from his efforts to remain in power after losing the 2020 election.
The 45-page indictment from special counsel Jack Smith puts Trump at the center of a lawless campaign to block the transfer of power, charging him with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and other crimes.
At its core, the Justice Department contends Trump embarked on a campaign of “dishonesty, fraud and conceit” to obstruct a “bedrock function” of a democracy — the counting of votes — generating charges for conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
“Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power. 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 had actually won,” the indictment states.
“These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false,” it continues. “But the Defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway—to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election.”
That lie was the basis for charges on four counts, alleging Trump was the director of a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and was also central to a campaign to block the certification of votes on Jan. 6.
That campaign spurred charges for obstruction of an official proceeding, the same charge brought against many of those who followed Trump’s Jan. 6 rally call for action and later stormed the Capitol in a deadly rampage.
The indictment also says Trump’s violated the rights of millions of Americans to cast a vote for the candidate of their choice, a right enshrined in the Constitution but further protected from “Conspiracy Against Rights.”
Trump reacted to Tuesday’s indictment in a similar manner to past charges announced in Manhattan and in Florida, largely by claiming it was part of a grand conspiracy to hurt the former president’s 2024 White House bid.
“Why didn’t they bring this ridiculous case 2.5 years ago? They wanted it right in the middle of my campaign, that’s why!” Trump wrote on Truth Social after the indictment was unsealed.
In a statement published moments before the charges were publicized, the Trump campaign compared the investigations into the former president to conduct found in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.
The indictment indicates that Trump will be charged alongside six co-conspirators who, though unnamed, point to a series of close advisers to the former president.
The assertion that Trump knew he lost advances the case beyond was what laid out by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — an allegation the panel made but was not fully able to prove.
The indictment breaks down a series of incidents in which allies who either supported Trump or “who personally stood to gain by remaining in office” like Vice President Mike Pence, informed Trump that he had lost the election and there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could unwind the results.
“Defendant was notified repeatedly that his claims were untrue — often by the people on whom he relied for candid advice on important matters, and who were best positioned to know the facts — and he deliberately disregarded the Truth,” the indictment states.
The indictment touches nearly every aspect of Trump’s plan to remain in power, chronologically detailing his outreach to pressure Justice Department officials and his conversations with Pence. It also offers a state-by-state breakdown of efforts by Trump to reverse the outcome in states that he lost.
The indictment goes into great detail recapping how the former president or a co-conspirator reached out to officials in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to pressure them to overturn the results in Trump’s favor and spread false claims about the vote counts in those states.
When state officials rebuffed Trump, the indictment describes a plan to craft fake election certificates, something the filing describes as an effort to “create a fake controversy” that would prompt Pence to “supplant” the real electoral votes with fake ones.
The government alleged that the Trump team was also not honest with those it drafted to serve as fake electors in each state, seeking to directly hand them to Pence and the National Archives “contrary to how fraudulent electors told them they would be used.”
The indictment also addresses at length the pressure campaign against Pence from Trump and one co-conspirator in particular, believed to be attorney John Eastman, to convince the vice president to reject the Electoral College results and either send them back to the states or unilaterally declare Trump the winner.
The document cites previously unreported contemporaneous notes from Pence, who testified before the grand jury, from a Jan. 4 meeting between the then-vice president, Trump and other aides.
According to Pence’s notes, Trump made knowingly false claims of election fraud.
The claims included him stating, “Bottom line—won every state by 100,000s of votes” and “We won every state.” Pence also noted that Trump brought up a claim that Justice Department officials had informed him was false as recently as the night before about “205,000 votes more in PA than voters.”
Pence, who is also running for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination, said in a statement Tuesday night that “anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States.”
The Justice Department has filed charges against hundreds of rioters who entered the Capitol that day, but has faced criticism for lagging behind the House committee investigating the attack in terms of its effort to bring charges against the masterminds of Trump’s efforts.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Tuesday credited the panel’s investigation, saying the indictment was “based in large part on evidence we uncovered through our work.”
But he warned the next test would be seeing how the case fares as Trump campaigns for office.
“The trial that will follow, will put our democracy to a new test: can the rule of law be enforced against a former president and current candidate for president?” he asked.
Smith in brief remarks from the Justice Department pledged to seek a speedy trial for Trump, who it set to be arraigned on Thursday.
The Justice Department hewed closely to recommendations by the Jan. 6 panel in listing co-conspirators in the plot, a group that was not indicted Tuesday but could face subsequent charges.
The indictment indicates that former Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell are alleged to have aided the former president in spreading false elections claims, while attorney John Eastman is referenced for his role in crafting memos related to Pence’s role on Jan. 6. Kenneth Chesebro is appears to be the co-conspirator responsible for forwarding the fake elector plot, while former DOJ attorney Jeffrey Clark was the figure Trump mulled installing at DOJ.
Smith said Trump, along with the help of others, relied on false statements to forward his scheme at nearly every turn.
“The attack on our nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” he said.
“As described in the indictment, 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.”
This story was updated at 8:16 p.m.