“The attack on our nation’s capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” special counsel Jack Smith told reporters after the indictment was filed. “It was fueled by lies, lies by the defendant.”
Smith also praised the law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol, saying that they “did not just defend a building or the people sheltering in it. They put their lives on the line to defend who we are as a country and a people.”
The charges represent the third indictment of the former president filed since March — setting the stage for one of the stranger presidential contests in history, in which a major-party front-runner may have to alternate between campaign stops and courtroom hearings over the next year and a half. A federal grand jury in Miami indicted Trump last month for allegedly mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House and obstructing government efforts to get them back. A state grand jury in New York has charged him with falsifying business records in connection with hush money payments during the 2016 campaign. And a state grand jury in Georgia is weighing whether to charge Trump for his efforts to undo the 2020 election results there.
Trump, who has pleaded not guilty in the documents case, denies all wrongdoing related to the 2020 election as well. His spokesman, Steven Cheung, accused the current administration of trying to interfere with the 2024 election by targeting the GOP front-runner, and he compared the Biden administration to some of the worst authoritarian regimes in history.
“President Trump has always followed the law and the Constitution, with advice from many highly accomplished attorneys,” Cheung said in a statement. “Three years ago we had strong borders, energy independence, no inflation, and a great economy. Today, we are a nation in decline. President Trump will not be deterred by disgraceful and unprecedented political targeting!”
Tuesday’s indictment paints Trump in late 2020 as a sore loser and an inveterate liar, willing to say almost anything to try to reverse his defeat at the hands of Democrat Joe Biden.
“Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power,” the indictment charges, accusing Trump of unleashing a blizzard of false claims about purported mass voter fraud and then trying to get state, local and federal officials to act to change the vote results.
“These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false,” the indictment states. “In fact, the Defendant was notified repeatedly that his claims were untrue — often by the people on whom he relied for candid advice on important matters, and who were best positioned to know the facts — and he deliberately disregarded the truth.”
The former president was ordered to appear in federal court in Washington on Thursday. The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, a 2014 Barack Obama appointee and a former D.C. public defender.
While Trump’s legal woes have grown exponentially in recent months, he has only solidified his early lead over the field of 2024 GOP presidential contenders. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), an ardent Trump supporter, issued a statement criticizing the Justice Department, claiming that the indictment was an effort to “attack the frontrunner for the Republican nomination” and distract the public from stories about President Biden while his son Hunter is trying to plead guilty to tax charges.
In broad strokes and specific scenes, the indictment recounts much of what was already known about Trump’s efforts to stay in the White House despite losing the election. But the indictment frames that conduct as a destructive criminal conspiracy that attempted to demolish a bedrock function of American democracy.
While no one else is charged alongside Trump, the indictment describes six unnamed and so far uncharged co-conspirators, who also appear to be in significant legal jeopardy. It was not immediately clear why they were not charged with crimes in the indictment or if Smith plans to pursue charges against those people in the future.
At the top of that list is Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and former lawyer for Trump. He appears in the indictment as Co-Conspirator 1, but his identity is clear from the document’s descriptions of that person’s actions.
Most of the other uncharged co-conspirators are identifiable based on details in the indictment and previous reporting by The Washington Post and other outlets. That reporting shows that Co-Conspirator 2, described in the indictment as “an attorney who devised and attempted to implement a strategy to leverage the Vice President’s ceremonial role overseeing the certification proceeding” is John Eastman.
The indictment describes Co-Conspirator 3 as “an attorney whose unfounded claims of election fraud” Trump himself said sounded “crazy” — a description that matches Trump ally Sidney Powell. Co-Conspirator 4 is described as a then-Justice Department official who “attempted to use the Justice Department to open sham election crime investigations.” Other details of that person’s actions match Jeffrey Clark, whom Trump considered appointing as attorney general in the final days of his administration.
Co-Conspirator 5 is described in the indictment as a lawyer who tried to implement a plan “to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding” — a reference that appears to match Kenneth Chesebro, a Trump attorney who worked on the scheme involving false presidential electors.
Lawyers for the uncharged co-conspirators did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The indictment says Trump used private phone calls, memos and other meetings to pressure his vice president, Mike Pence, to help him overturn the election.
There were at least four calls before Jan. 6, the indictment says, including a call on Christmas and one on New Year’s Day. On Christmas, Pence told Trump he did not have the “authority” to overturn the election. On Jan. 1, he again told Trump that, according to the indictment. “You’re too honest,” Trump allegedly responded.
Pence rejected Trump again on Jan. 3, according to the indictment. The indictment says Pence and his team were also pressured by Eastman in the days leading up to Jan. 6. “When Co-Conspirator 2 acknowledged to the Defendant’s Senior Advisor that no court would support his proposal, the Senior Advisor told Co-Conspirator 2, ‘[Y]ou’re going to cause riots in the streets.’ Co-Conspirator 2 responded that there had previously been points in the nation’s history where violence was necessary to protect the republic. After that conversation, the Senior Advisor notified the Defendant that Co-Conspirator 2 had conceded that his plan was ‘not going to work,’” the indictment says.
The indictment also alleges that on the night of Jan. 6, after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to prevent the formal certification of Biden’s victory, “the White House counsel called the Defendant to ask him to withdraw any objections and allow the certification. The Defendant refused.”
Trump had publicly predicted that he would be indicted for more than two weeks, announcing on social media on July 18 that his attorneys had been told he might be charged in the case. On Tuesday, that grand jury panel hearing evidence in the case gathered early at the courthouse. Its members were seen leaving in the afternoon.
About 5 p.m., reporters in the courthouse saw a prosecutor with Smith’s office and the grand jury foreperson deliver the indictment to a magistrate judge.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya accepted the grand jury return, saying, “I do have one indictment return before me, and I have reviewed the paperwork in connection with this indictment.”
A short time later, the document was available on the federal court computer system for all to see.
Smith was tapped in November to take charge of the Justice Department’s classified-documents probe and 2020 election investigation, after Trump launched his 2024 campaign and Attorney General Merrick Garland — a Biden appointee — concluded that an independent prosecutor should oversee the probes.
A state grand jury in Fulton County, Ga., is also considering whether to file broad charges against Trump and his lawyers, advocates and aides over their efforts to undo the 2020 election results. A decision is expected this month, although previous plans to announce a charging decision have been delayed. Michigan and Arizona are also investigating aspects of the efforts to block Biden’s victory in their states.
Trump is scheduled for trial in March on the New York state charges of falsifying business records, and a federal judge in Florida has scheduled the classified-documents trial to start in late May.
Smith vowed Tuesday to seek a speedy trial in Washington on the election conspiracy charges.
That investigation proceeded along multiple tracks in recent months, people familiar with the matter have told The Washington Post, with prosecutors focused on ads and fundraising pitches claiming election fraud as well as plans for “fake electors” who could have swung the election to Trump.
A key focus of the investigation was determining to what degree Republican operatives, activists and elected officials — including Trump — understood that their claims of massive voter fraud were false at the time they were making them.
Smith’s Jan. 6 investigation has sought to navigate thorny issues of where the line should be drawn between political activity, legal advocacy and criminal conspiracy. In doing so, the former war crimes prosecutor focused intently on the conduct of a relatively small number of lawyers and senior advisers who allegedly tried to advance Trump’s falsehoods to stay in office.
At a community event in Philadelphia on Tuesday evening, Garland briefly addressed reporters outside a police district headquarters. He did not discuss the specifics of the indictment but expressed confidence in how the investigation has been handled.
“Mr. Smith and his team are experienced, principled career agents and prosecutors” who “follow the facts and the law wherever they lead,” said Garland.
Rachel Weiner, Tom Jackman, Mariana Alfaro and Maura Ewing contributed to this report.