Donald Trump has been indicted for his wide-ranging efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the third time in four months that the former US president has been criminally charged.
The four-count indictment alleges Trump conspired to defraud the US by preventing Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory and to deprive voters of their right to a fair election.
Trump was ordered to make an initial appearance in Washington federal court on Thursday.
The charges stem from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into allegations Trump – the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – sought to reverse his loss to Biden, his Democratic rival.
In the 45-page court document, prosecutors allege a coordinated conspiracy across multiple states, in which Trump and his allies advanced claims of fraud they knew to be untrue in a desperate attempt to undermine American democracy and cling to power.
After a fiery Trump speech, his supporters attacked the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in a bid to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
In a brief media statement, Smith placed the blame for the January 6 attack squarely on Trump‘s shoulders.
“The attack on our nation’s capital on January 6th, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. As described in the indictment, it was fuelled by lies – lies by the defendant, targeted at obstructing the bedrock function of the US government,” Smith said.
Trump and others organised fraudulent slates of electors in seven states, all of which he lost, to submit their votes to be counted and certified as official by Congress on January 6, the indictment said.
The indictment lays out numerous examples of Trump‘s election falsehoods and notes that close advisers, including senior intelligence officials, told him repeatedly that the election results were legitimate.
“These claims were false, and the defendant knew that they were false,” prosecutors wrote.
When the push to certify the fake electors failed, Trump sought to pressure Vice President Mike Pence not to allow the certification of the election to go forward, and took advantage of the violence outside the Capitol to do so, according to prosecutors. During the violence, Trump rebuffed calls from his advisers to issue a calming message.
“The defendant attempted to use a crowd of supporters that he had gathered in Washington, D.C. to pressure the Vice President to fraudulently alter the election results,” the indictment reads.
In a statement, the Trump campaign said he had always followed the law and characterised the indictment as a political “persecution” reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
The indictment alleges Trump conspired with six other unnamed individuals.
Trump already had become the first former US president to face criminal charges. He has sought to portray the prosecutions as part of a politically motivated witch hunt.
The latest charges represent a second round of federal charges by Smith, who was appointed a special counsel in November by US Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Trump pleaded not guilty after a federal grand jury in Miami convened by the special counsel charged him in June in a 37-count indictment over his unlawful retention of classified government documents after leaving office in 2021 and obstructing justice. Prosecutors accused him of risking some of the most sensitive US national security secrets.
Last Thursday, prosecutors added three more criminal counts against Trump, bringing the total to 40, accusing him of ordering employees to delete security videos as he was under investigation for retaining the documents.
The first charges brought against Trump emerged in March when a grand jury convened by Manhattan’s district attorney indicted him. Trump in April pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts accusing him of falsifying business records concerning a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she said she had with him. Trump has denied the encounter.
Trump, 77, leads a crowded field of Republican presidential candidates as he seeks a rematch with Biden, 80, next year. Biden in April launched his re-election campaign.
Trump, who served as president from 2017 to 2021, has shown an ability to survive legal troubles, political controversies and personal behaviour that might sink other politicians.
Strategists said while the indictments could help Trump solidify support within his base and win the Republican nomination, his ability to capitalise on them may be more limited in next year’s US election, when he will have to win over more sceptical moderate Republicans and independents.