Former United States President Donald Trump has been criminally indicted for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, with prosecutors accusing the Republican politician of attempting to obstruct “a bedrock function” of democracy in order to cling on to power.
The 45-page indictment, filed in Washington, DC on Tuesday by Special Counsel Jack Smith, detailed four felony charges against Trump, some of which carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
They include one count of conspiracy to defraud the US, one count of conspiracy against rights, one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and one count of obstructing an official proceeding.
The charges – Trump’s third criminal indictment since March – stemmed from Smith’s sprawling investigation into allegations that the former president sought to reverse his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
In the indictment, prosecutors alleged that Trump pushed fraud claims he knew to be untrue, pressured state and federal officials – including Vice President Mike Pence – to alter the results and finally incited a violent assault on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in a desperate attempt to undermine the country’s democracy and cling to power.
In a brief statement to reporters, Smith placed the blame for the violence squarely on Trump’s shoulders.
“The attack on our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Smith said. “It was fuelled by lies – lies by the defendant, targeted at obstructing the bedrock function of the US government,” he added.
Trump was ordered to make an initial appearance in federal court in Washington, DC on Thursday. The case has been assigned to US District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who was appointed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.
Trump, who is the frontrunner in the 2024 Republican presidential contest, said the latest charges amount to election interference. He is already scheduled to go on trial in Florida in May 2024 for allegedly mishandling top-secret government documents.
The former president went on to allege that “the lawlessness of these persecutions is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes”.
The Trump campaign meanwhile called the charges “fake” and asked why it took two-and-a-half years to bring them.
“President Trump will not be deterred by disgraceful and unprecedented political targeting,” it added.
Trump was the only person charged in Tuesday’s indictment.
But prosecutors referenced a half-dozen co-conspirators, including lawyers inside and outside of government who they said had worked with Trump to undo the election results.
The indictment says Trump and his co-conspirators organised fraudulent slates of electors in seven states, all of which he lost, to be certified as official by Congress on January 6. It also lays out numerous examples of Trump’s election falsehoods and notes that close advisers, including senior intelligence officials, told him repeatedly that the 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 Pence not to allow certification of the election to go forward and took advantage of the chaos outside the Capitol to do so, according to prosecutors.
Trump’s co-conspirators were not named, but based on the descriptions, they appear to include his former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who called state lawmakers in the weeks following the 2020 election to pressure them not to certify their states’ results.