On August 1, a Washington grand jury charged the former President with four counts related to his attempts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election and his role in the January 6, 2021, takeover of the U.S. Capitol. Trump’s third criminal indictment. As Trump seeks the Republican presidential nominee in 2024, the indictment creates another complicated judicial battle.
The Justice Department’s Tuesday indictment of six unnamed co-conspirators follows Special Counsel Jack Smith’s nearly eight-month investigation into Trump’s attempts to sabotage the January 6 power transfer. Obstruction, conspiracy to obstruct, conspiracy to defraud, and conspiracy against the right to vote are the four charges.
“Each of these conspiracies—which built upon the widespread mistrust the Defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud—targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the presidential election results,” the indictment states.
Trump called the indictment “fake” and accused Smith of “interfering” with the 2024 election on Truth Social before the DOJ announced the allegations. “Why didn’t they do this 2.5 years ago?” he wrote. Why so patient? They wanted to put that in my campaign.
The Justice Department ordered Trump to appear in Washington, D.C., federal court on August 3.
Smith said Tuesday that the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol was unique. “We’re investigating more people. My office will want a quick trial so an ordinary jury can review our evidence and decide.
The indictment accuses Trump of making false electoral fraud claims despite knowing they were false. It says Vice President Mike Pence, senior DOJ officials, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, and senior White House attorneys told him there was no significant electoral fraud.
Trump continued to maintain his authority despite this. The indictment alleges that Trump attempted to submit fake elector slates in swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin that voted for Joe Biden.
In the days before the attack on January 6, Pence allegedly took “contemporaneous notes” of Trump and Pence’s private phone calls. After Pence said he couldn’t unilaterally reject the election results, Trump allegedly called him “too honest.” According to the complaint, Trump attorney John Eastman also convinced Pence to tamper with the Electoral College vote. Eastman allegedly argued that “violence had previously been necessary in the nation’s history where violence was necessary to protect the republic” in response to a senior aide’s warning that such a move would ignite street unrest.
Pence responded on Tuesday: “On January 6th, Former President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. I choose the Constitution forever.
By January 6, Trump had taken advantage of the unrest by refusing to authorize a message telling protestors to leave, according to the indictment. Trump insisted the election was rigged hours after the throng dispersed. “The White House counsel called the defendant to ask him to withdraw any objections and allow the certification,” the accusation states. “Defendant declined,”
The indictment is Trump’s latest legal issue. A separate special counsel inquiry by Smith accuses him of hoarding national security secrets and blocking government efforts to recover them. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with manipulating company papers to conceal porn performer payments in April.
Trump may face another criminal trial in Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has appointed a grand jury to investigate his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election results.
A prominent presidential candidate with several criminal charges would usually lose. Trump has exploited his legal precariousness in the Republican contest. Trump raised millions and gained popularity after his first two indictments. Since then, he has led the GOP 2024 race by more than 30 points over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in most national polls.
“The lawlessness of these persecutions of President Trump and his supporters is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes,” the Trump campaign said Tuesday. After consultation with experienced attorneys, President Trump has followed the law and Constitution.
“I have the right to protest an Election that I am fully convinced was Rigged and Stolen,” Trump said on Truth Social before the latest indictment.
Jessica Roth, a Cardozo School of Law professor and former Southern District of New York federal prosecutor, says it won’t be a solid legal argument. “You can’t use unlawful means even if you believe you did,” she says. It’s a weak legal defense. Roth says prosecutors will benefit “significantly” if they can prove Trump knew he had lost the election but kept lying.
Trump’s approach to the claims has been to inflame MAGA supporters. At rallies, he says, “They’re not coming after me, they’re coming after you.” He also claimed without evidence that the prosecutions are a politically motivated witch hunt to bring down the man blocking President Biden’s second term.
Smith’s latest indictment may be Trump’s enemies’ favorite. Democrats and Never Trump Republicans rejoiced at Trump’s legal punishment after 50 years of evading investigations. They notably want him to answer for his role in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and his attempts to impede the peaceful transfer of power.
The Jan. 6 Committee’s primetime hearings last summer and fall investigated Trump’s multifarious attempts to rig the 2020 election. The nine-member, neutral commission diligently proved Trump was mainly to fault for the deadly coup attempt. The committee concluded in its final report that former President Donald Trump was the main cause of January 6 events. “He made January 6 happen.”
After 18 months and 10 public hearings, the panel unanimously submitted criminal allegations against Trump to the Justice Department last December. The committee found evidence for four criminal charges: impeding an official inquiry, conspiring to cheat the government, making false claims, and promoting an insurrection. Despite having no legal basis, it was the first time a congressional committee issued such a statement against a previous president.
After Trump declared his campaign for president in November, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith as special counsel, and the Justice Department was investigating what transpired on January 6.
Trump routinely claims that systemic forces are using his many criminal probes to bring him down. Some have hypothesized that Trump officially launched his campaign early—a week after the midterm elections—to make things tough for prosecutors, who have a longstanding policy of preventing even the appearance of election tampering. Trump’s opponents think he’ll delay the proceedings until after the election. If he succeeds, he may ask his attorney general to dismiss the federal charges against him or pardon himself.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon postponed the secret document trial until May 20, 2024. On March 25, 2024, before the primaries, New York will launch the “hush money” case.
Some senior federal prosecutors think Trump’s delay tactics will work. Most white-collar criminal investigations take years, so prosecuting a former President who is also the Republican nominee in 2024 will be more harder.
Legal experts say Trump may still be president if the special counsel finds him guilty. The Constitution allows natural-born Americans over 35 and 14 years in the US to run for president. Trump might run for president even if imprisoned.
Smith and his attorneys face a lengthy legal process after Tuesday’s indictment. Roth says this case will be difficult. “Harder to argue and win than the Florida papers case. There will be a lot of proof and a complicated plot to explain the atrocities and the previous President. It is much broader than the Florida accusations.