Donald Trump indictment: Ex-president charged with attempts to overturn 2020 election

Third felony indictment homes in on his 'lies' and 'assault on the seat of American democracy'

Then-president Donald Trump reacts to early results from the 2020 US presidential election on November 4, 2020. Reuters
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Donald Trump was indicted on federal charges for attempting to overturn the 2020 election results, a culminating moment in a third criminal investigation of the former US president as he seeks the Republican Party's nomination to run for office again next year.

On Tuesday, Special Counsel Jack Smith charged Mr Trump with three counts of conspiracy and one count of obstruction.

In a 45-page document, prosecutors accuse Mr Trump of repeatedly lying about the election results and engaging in a conspiracy to “disenfranchise millions of voters” by installing puppet representatives to support his election claims in Congress.

Mr Trump's claims of having won the election were “false, and the defendant knew they were false”, the indictment said.

“But the defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway – to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, to create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and to erode public faith in the administration of the election.”

Despite losing the popular vote to Democrat Joe Biden by more than seven million votes, Mr Trump insisted he had won by a landslide.

Two months of false statements about the election results fuelled widespread anger among Mr Trump's base, who believed his claim the presidency had been stolen from him.

Their fury led to the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, where a mob of Trump supporters broke into the building, shortly after the former president gave a speech during which he told supporters to “fight like hell”.

“The attack on our nation's capitol on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Mr Smith said in brief remarks after the indictment was unsealed.

It was “fuelled by lies – lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the US government: the nation's process of collecting counting and certifying the results of the presidential election”.

Before the indictment was handed down, Mr Trump posted on his Truth Social media platform that he had expected to be indicted.

“I hear that Deranged Jack Smith, in order to interfere with the presidential election of 2024, will be putting out yet another fake indictment of your favourite president,” he wrote.

Outside the federal courthouse in Washington, where a grand jury had been meeting in the case, local resident Nicky Sundt stood with a sign depicting Mr Trump with a Nazi swastika on his scalp.

“Trump and his supporters are a threat to our democracy,” Ms Sundt told The National.

“I'm here to support the indictment. He should be detained before a trial because he is prone to making inflammatory and provocative statements that pose a clear and present danger to the American public.”

The charges make for the second federal indictment Mr Smith has issued against the leading Republican presidential candidate. He is the first US president – former or sitting – to face federal criminal charges.

The Department of Justice appointed Mr Smith as an independent Special Counsel to oversee investigations related to the former president shortly after Mr Trump announced his White House bid in November 2022.

Since then, a grand jury in Florida issued dozens of criminal charges over Mr Trump's alleged mishandling of classified documents after his presidency ended – to which he pleaded not guilty in June.

In a third criminal case, Mr Trump has been charged in New York with unlawfully paying hush money, through his lawyer at the time, to an adult film star during the 2016 election campaign. He has pleaded not guilty.

A bipartisan House of Representatives panel investigated Mr Trump's part in the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol and held historic public hearings on their findings.

The panel recommended that the Justice Department bring criminal charges against Mr Trump, including incitement of insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the US.

Seven people, including police officers, died in connection to the insurrection, and another 140 police officers were injured in the attack.

More than 1,000 people have been charged as part of the Justice Department's investigation into the day's events.

The case has been assigned to US District Judge Tanya S Chutkan.

January 6 insurrection – in pictures

Updated: August 02, 2023, 5:47 AM