Special counsel charges Trump with conspiracy to defraud the U.S.

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump was indicted Tuesday on charges he conspired to defraud the country he used to lead and attempted to prevent the peaceful transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden.

“The purpose of the conspiracy was to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the government function by which those results are collected, counted and certified,” the indictment from special counsel Jack Smith’s office says.

The indictment marks a historic moment for a nation less than 250 years old — the first time a former president has faced criminal charges for trying to overturn the bedrock of democracy, a free and fair election. While Trump’s failure to reverse his defeat was a credit to the guardrails of that democracy, the ability to prosecute him may renew the stress test on the constitutional design.

The allegation that Trump used “dishonesty, fraud, and deceit” to subvert the 2020 election with “pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud” comes after a sprawling investigation that included testimony from dozens of White House aides and advisors ranging in seniority up to former Vice President Mike Pence.

The indictment accuses Trump of taking part in three criminal conspiracies: “to defraud the United States by using dishonesty, fraud and deceit” to obstruct the electoral vote process; to “impede the January 6 congressional proceeding at which the collected results of the presidential election are counted and certified;” and “against the right to vote and to have that vote counted.”

He’s due to be arraigned on the charges on Thursday.

“My office will seek a speedy trial so that our evidence can be tested in court and judged by a jury of citizens,” Smith said after the indictment was made public.

Smith pointed to the law enforcement who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6 in unveiling the indictment, calling them “heroes” and “patriots.”

“They did not just defend a building with people sheltering in it,” Smith said. “They put their lives on the line to defend who we are as a country and as a people. They defended the very institutions and principles that define the United States.”

The indictment was handed down two weeks after Trump announced that he’d been notified he received a target letter in the probe led by special counsel Jack Smith, who brought charges against the former president last month in a separate case over Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving office.

Trump called the indictment “fake” in a post on his social media website shortly before news of the filing was made public.

“Why didn’t they do this 2.5 years ago? Why did they wait so long? Because they wanted to put it right in the middle of my campaign. Prosecutorial Misconduct!” his Truth Social post said.

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing over his actions after the 2020 election, blasting Smith as “corrupt” and labeling the investigation as “election interference.” Trump launched his 2024 presidential bid in November, after the Justice Department had already been investigating his ties to the violence that took place at the U.S. Capitol during the presidential vote count on Jan. 6.

‘Beamed down from the mothership’

The indictment says the conspiracy started soon after the 2020 election. It does not name Trump’s co-conspirators, but identifies four as attorneys, one as a Justice Department official and the sixth as a political consultant.

The person named as co-conspirator #1 appears to be Rudy Giuliani, based on previous testimony and other records. It cites his efforts to overturn the election results using bogus fraud claims in Arizona and Georgia.

Giuliani’s attorney Robert Costello said co-conspirator #1 did appear to be his client, but added that “Every fact that Mayor Giuliani possesses about this case establishes the good faith basis President Trump had for the actions he took.” Costello also criticized the indictment, charging that it “eviscerates the First Amendment.”

Co-conspirator #2, who advocated for a plan to use fake electors to challenge the election results and allegedly pressured Pence to go along with the plan, is lawyer John Eastman, his attorney Harvey Silverglate confirmed to NBC News. Silverglate said they plan to send Smith a memo to explain why Eastman is innocent.

Co-conspirator #3 appears to be Sidney Powell.

The court filing cites a lawsuit she filed against the governor of Georgia “falsely alleging ‘massive election fraud’ accomplished through the voting machine company’s election software and hardware.” Trump promoted the lawsuit on Twitter, even though when he talked about her “far-fetched public claims regarding the voting machine company in private with advisors, the Defendant had conceded that they were unsupported and that Co-Conspirator 3 sounded ‘crazy,’” the indictment said.

Prosecutors asserted that Trump was well aware that the claims he was making about the election were bogus, and noted that he kept making them even after as much by the vice president, attorney general, law enforcement, numerous state officials in different states, and White House advisors and campaign advisers.

The indictment cited an email a senior campaign advisor sent to an unidentified recipient mocking the work done by Giuliani in Georgia. “When our research and campaign legal team can’t back up any of the claims made by our Elite Strike Force Legal Team, you can see why we’re 0-32 on our cases. 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,” the email said.

One official who promoted the election fraud claims was then-Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who appears to be co-conspirator #4, based on testimony before the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 riot.

The indictment said he had unauthorized contacts with the White House, and had pushed to send out an official Justice Department letter falsely claiming that investigators had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States.”

Trump was a proponent of the plan and intended to name Clark as his acting attorney general until he was threatened with mass resignations if he did so, the filing says.

The indictment also quotes a deputy White House counsel as having warned Clark that there would be “riots in every major city in the United States” if Trump stayed in office. The filing said Clark responded, “Well, [Deputy White House Counsel], that’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.”

Five to 20 years in prison

Much of the indictment covers ground that was included in the House report, but it also includes some new details, including that Trump and his allies reached out to a total of seven lawmakers — six senators and a congressman — even after the Capitol riot halted the presidential vote count to urge them to further delay the proceedings.

“In one of the calls, Co-Conspirator 1 left a voicemail intended for a United States Senator that said, ‘We need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you. And I know they’re reconvening at eight tonight but the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow—ideally until the end of tomorrow,’” the indictment says.

The charges against Trump have maximum sentences ranging from five to 20 years in prison.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith as special counsel in November.

“Mr. Smith and his team of experienced, principled career agents and prosecutors have followed the facts and the law wherever they lead,” Garland told reporters Tuesday evening. “Any questions about this matter will have to be answered by the filings made in the courtroom.”

Grand jurors heard testimony from dozens of witnesses in the wide-ranging investigation, including Pence, who is now running against Trump for the Republican nomination. The indictment at points cites contemporaneous notes Pence took regarding meetings with Trump, when the president was pushing him to reject electoral college votes in numerous states.

The indictment is the second case that Smith has brought against Trump in less than two months. In June, Smith brought a 37-count indictment against Trump for allegedly mishandling national security information and obstruction. Trump has pleaded not guilty in that case, which he’s labeled “the boxes hoax.”

He was hit with additional counts in the case last week, including new obstruction charges related to alleged efforts to delete surveillance video footage that had been subpoenaed from his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Trump became the first former president to be indicted in March, when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg hit him with a 34-count felony indictment for allegedly falsifying business records related to hush money payments. Trump has pleaded not guilty in that case as well, maintaining that the prosecution is politically motivated.

The former president is also the focus of an election probe in Georgia. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened an investigation in 2021 into whether Trump and his allies interfered in the 2020 election. She has indicated that indictments stemming from that probe could come in early August.

Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on a charge of inciting insurrection one week after his supporters stormed the Capitol and temporarily halted the Electoral College vote count before a joint session of Congress. He was acquitted after the Senate — including seven Republicans — voted to convict him 57 to 43, 10 short of the 67 votes that were needed.

According to Justice Department figures, nearly 1,100 have been arrested in connection with the Capitol riot to date, and more than 300 have been sentenced to periods of incarceration.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

Leave a Comment