Special Counsel Jack Smith has unveiled a comprehensive case alleging that former President Donald Trump violated multiple laws in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. A grand jury returned an indictment on Tuesday, highlighting the extent and scope of the federal investigation.
According to the charging documents, Trump was determined to stay in power despite losing the election. He and six unindicted co-conspirators are accused of orchestrating a plot to overturn the election results leading up to January 6, 2021.
The charges against Trump include four counts. He is accused of conspiring to defraud the United States and obstructing an official proceeding, an account previously used against Capitol rioters. Additionally, prosecutors are relying on a Reconstruction-era civil rights law to charge Trump with conspiring to deprive people of their voting rights.
While much of Trump’s attempts to overturn the election were publicly known and subject to a presidential impeachment trial and congressional probe, the new charges demonstrate the extensive work put in by prosecutors to build a compelling case. The indictment includes witness testimonies secured after legal battles over executive privilege, providing insights previously out of reach for other investigations.
Trump has dismissed the indictment as a politically motivated fabrication. He has been summoned to appear before a magistrate judge on Thursday.
Key takeaways from the indictment are:
Trump accused of knowingly spreading ‘prolific lies’ of fraud in the 2020 election
According to the indictment, prosecutors have detailed numerous instances of former President Donald Trump spreading false claims of voter fraud and election malfeasance after the 2020 election. Despite being informed by state and federal officials that these claims were untrue, Trump continued to promote them, referred to as “prolific lies” in the indictment.
The charges against Trump allege that he knowingly pushed baseless claims of voter fraud and voting machine manipulation, even though he was aware of their falsehood. He spread these falsehoods to create a sense of legitimacy around his claims, foster an atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and undermine public confidence in the electoral process.
In one notable anecdote in the indictment, Trump reportedly acknowledged that he would leave the White House on January 20, 2021, after being advised to delay a specific national security action because the Inauguration was only 17 days away.
The indictment highlights several instances where Trump’s aides and officials informed him that the fraud claims he promoted were false. For example, the acting attorney general and acting deputy attorney general told him his share of more votes than voters in Wisconsin was wrong. Yet, he continued to repeat it, even on January 6.
Before the Capitol attack, Trump persisted in spreading the false claim of more than 200,000 illegal votes in Pennsylvania, despite being told multiple times by Justice Department officials that the claim was baseless.
In Michigan, Trump repeatedly asserted an illegal vote dump in Detroit during the 2020 election, despite being informed by Republican state leaders that he was mistaken and had lost the state due to his underperformance with specific voter populations.
The indictment highlights instances where Trump was informed by various high-ranking officials and entities, including Vice President Mike Pence, the director of national intelligence, senior members of the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, his staffers, and state and federal courts, that his claims were false.
The indictment paints a picture of a concerted effort by Trump to propagate false information about the election results, even in the face of overwhelming evidence and expert testimony to the contrary.
Allegedly organized fake electors.
The indictment alleges that former President Donald Trump and his co-conspirators devised a scheme to deceive individuals from seven targeted states into creating and submitting certificates claiming they were legitimate electors. The objective was to fabricate a “fake controversy” during the certification proceedings in those states on December 14, 2020, and position Vice President Mike Pence, presiding over the Senate on January 6, to replace valid electors with Trump’s fraudulent ones.
Prosecutors assert that Trump and his co-conspirators altered their strategy in early December 2020 after they attempted to persuade state officials not to certify the correct election results failed. They then filed court cases in states where the fake electors were being organized as a pretext to justify the assembly of alternative slates.
During this period, Trump’s lawyer, Kenneth Chesebro (referred to as Co-conspirator 5 in the indictment), reportedly informed Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani (identified as Co-conspirator 2), that state-level operatives had expressed concerns about appearing treasonous if Arizona’s electors voted without a pending court proceeding.
An Arizona attorney, whose name remains undisclosed, documented a conversation with Chesebro, quoting him as suggesting the scheme of having their electors submit votes, even though they were not legally valid under federal law (as the Governor did not sign them). The attorney described Chesebro’s idea as sending “fake” electoral votes to Vice President Pence, setting the stage for objections and arguments during the vote-counting process in Congress on January 6.
In essence, the indictment portrays a coordinated effort by Trump and his co-conspirators to manipulate the electoral process and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election results through fraudulent means, ultimately leading to January 6, 2021.
‘Exploited’ January 6 attack on US Capitol
According to the indictment, former President Donald Trump and his co-conspirators are accused of exploiting the violence and chaos of the Capitol attack to further their efforts to delay the certification of the 2020 election results. Despite pleas to direct the rioters to leave, Trump continued his attempts to convince members of Congress to postpone the certification.
One notable incident mentioned in the indictment is a phone call on the evening of the riot. Trump reportedly declined a request from his then-White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, to withdraw his objections and allow for the certification of the election results by Congress.
Prosecutors highlighted Trump’s alleged repeated refusals to urge the rioters to leave the Capitol during the attack. Although he eventually released a recorded video message at 4:17 pm that day, telling the rioters to go home, his initial hesitancy to condemn their actions is underscored in the indictment.
Additionally, the indictment describes phone calls made by Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to members of Congress on the same evening. Giuliani left a voicemail for an unidentified US Senator, urging them to “object to every state and kind of spread this out a little bit like a filibuster,” as quoted from the voicemail in the indictment.
The indictment portrays a situation where Trump and his co-conspirators took advantage of the turmoil at the Capitol to continue their efforts to challenge the election results and delay the certification process. It emphasizes Trump’s actions during and after the attack, as well as Giuliani’s involvement in contacting members of Congress to further their objectives.
Pence’s evidence was out of reach for other January 6 probes
Tuesday’s indictment reveals that many of the revelations result from aggressive legal battles waged by prosecutors to obtain testimony from close aides to former President Donald Trump. These testimonies shed light on new details about Trump’s communications with Vice President Mike Pence, specifically in his attempts to persuade Pence to disrupt Congress’ certification vote on January 6.
One significant insight includes a Christmas Day phone call between Pence and Trump, during which Trump quickly shifted the conversation to January 6, urging the Vice President to reject electoral votes on that day. Despite Trump’s pressure, Pence pushed back and reiterated that he did not believe he had the authority to change the election outcome.
Prosecutors obtained contemporaneous notes that Pence took during the conversation, which revealed that Trump falsely claimed the Justice Department had found major election infractions.
In the days leading up to January 6, Trump repeatedly told Pence that he had the right to reject the election results, as stated in the indictment.
Prosecutors also engaged in secret court proceedings to challenge privilege claims made by Trump over his then-White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, and White House Deputy Counsel, Pat Philbin. According to the indictment, Philbin advised Trump in December 2020 that there was no scenario in which he would not leave the White House on January 20th.
Moreover, prosecutors uncovered new evidence shedding light on the role of Mark Meadows, which had been relatively unknown in previous investigations into election subversion schemes. The indictment recounts a conversation between Trump and Meadows. Meadows allegedly assured Trump that Georgia election officials were behaving responsibly but would find evidence of fraud if it existed. Hours later, Trump publicly criticized the same officials on Twitter, calling them “terrible people” who were covering up evidence of fraud.
In summary, the new indictment provides a deeper understanding of the interactions and attempts to influence Vice President Pence. It reveals additional evidence regarding the involvement of Mark Meadows in the efforts to challenge the 2020 election results.
There’s likely much more to come.
In an unusual move, Special Counsel Jack Smith publicly announced the indictment’s unsealing, emphasizing the investigation’s ongoing nature and the Justice Department’s commitment to hold those responsible for the events of January 6 accountable.
As the investigation progresses, there is a possibility that others may be charged in connection with the probe. Meanwhile, the criminal proceedings against former President Donald Trump will occur in federal court in DC, commencing with his appearance before a magistrate judge on Thursday. At this appearance, Trump is expected to enter his plea, and the case will be overseen by US District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who has a reputation for being stern in her sentencing of January 6 rioter cases.
After the initial appearance, Trump’s defense team will receive the evidence collected during the investigation. This will kick off a lengthy process of resolving any pre-trial disputes, such as whether the prosecution has met the legal requirements to bring the case and what evidence can be presented before a jury.
In addition to the election subversion case, Trump is facing two other criminal indictments—one involving the mishandling of classified documents from his White House and the other stemming from a 2016 campaign hush money scheme, both brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith and Manhattan prosecutors, respectively.
Based on his arguments in these cases, it seems likely that Trump’s defense team will seek to delay the trial for the election subversion case until after the 2024 election. Meanwhile, Trump will continue with his campaign schedule, including an appearance in Alabama on Friday.