Thrice Indicted: Trump Charged in Conspiracy to Overturn the 2020 Election
The GOP’s 2024 frontrunner is accused of trying to “defraud the United States by using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit to impair, obstruct, and defeat” Joe Biden’s election.
THE MAGNUM OPUS of the Trump indictment frenzy arrived on Tuesday, with a four-count indictment out of a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. It is Donald Trump’s second federal indictment, and his third overall—so far.
This new indictment brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith focuses on the various schemes to steal the 2020 presidential election from Joe Biden and—more critically—from the American voters, culminating in the ugly disgrace of the January 6th mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. The indictment is a big deal for the obvious reason that without it, the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination for president would definitely have gotten away with having orchestrated an attempted violent coup against his own democratically elected government. He still might.
The four felony counts again Trump are:
conspiracy to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371;
conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, that is, certification of the electoral vote, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(k);
obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(c)(2) & 2; and
conspiracy to knowingly injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate people in the free exercise of the right to vote under the Constitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 241.
The document also lists six co-conspirators, four of them lawyers—and although it does not name them, some of their identities are easy to guess at (including Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman).
The indictment offers a preview of how Smith and his team could present their case to a jury—if this case goes to trial. That possibility remains an “if” only because Donald Trump is running for president and polling at three times better than his next-best rival for the Republican nomination. If Trump were to be returned to the White House in January 2025, his Justice Department would undoubtedly drop all charges against him.
Short of a jury trial, the only other means of disposing of this case would be a plea (never gonna happen) or a successful motion to dismiss the indictment as legally flawed (also never gonna happen). So the possibility of going to trial, and seeing Trump convicted and sentenced to prison, is increasingly real. Smith isn’t messing around.
THE INDICTMENT READS LIKE a play in four acts. Act One unfolds as follows: Starting around November 13, 2020, and using “baseless fraud claims,” Trump pushed multiple state legislators and election officials to ignore or alter the electoral outcomes in his favor and otherwise disenfranchise voters.
In Act Two, Trump and his co-conspirators organized fraudulent slates of electors in seven states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—and even “tricked” certain fake electors into believing their fraudulent slates would be used only if Trump won his umpteen bogus lawsuits challenging the election results in court.
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In Act Three, Trump tried to get Vice President Mike Pence to embrace the fraudulent electors, reject legitimate electoral votes, or not count legitimate ones—going so far as to even call him on Christmas and New Year’s Day, and to tell him (presumably according to Pence’s grand jury testimony), “You’re too honest” when Pence refused to play along.
In Act Four, after Pence’s final rejection of the scheme, Trump exploited the violent eruption at the Capitol by spreading lies about the election results and trying to convince multiple individual members of Congress to delay the certification, all while lying to the mob that Pence was abdicating his constitutional duty by refusing to abdicate his constitutional duty.
The basic facts underlying these alleged crimes—the “what happened” and “when” parts of the playbill summary—have long been well established. Not only did tens of millions of Americans (some horrified, others gleeful) watch the chaos and violence unfold in real time on television on January 6th, but over the course of 2022, the House January 6th Committee skillfully amassed substantial evidence and produced a must-watch television series for the American public outlining what happened, as well as a final report that anticipated some of the charges in this indictment.
Nonetheless, there still remains a question mark over Donald Trump’s state of mind. The relevant law requires that he had knowledge that the scheme was unlawful and/or that he intentionally broke the law. Beginning on page 6 of the 45-page indictment, Smith’s team knocks the state-of-mind factor out of the park, underscoring the ludicrousness of the suggestion that Trump was oblivious to what he was doing. The indictment catalogues loads of false statements by the former president—e.g., that there were over 10,000 dead voters in Georgia, 205,000 more votes than voters in Pennsylvania, tens of thousands of double votes in Nevada, and over 30,000 non-citizens allowed to vote in Arizona.
The indictment also lists a slew of people who told Trump that the suggestion that he won the election was false, including Pence, senior DOJ officials, the director of national intelligence, cybersecurity experts at the Department of Homeland Security, senior White House counsel, senior campaign staffers, state legislators and officials, and numerous judges who ruled against Trump and his unethical legal team that peddled countless falsehoods in courts of law across the country. Many of them can be expected to testify at trial.
The fact that so many people were nonetheless complicit in this scheme remains, some two and a half years later, a stunning and appalling fact. This indictment is a step toward justice. And it is a document of historic importance. But it is also—for the Republican party and for America as a whole—a reckoning. Because Trump’s treasonous, criminal, and malevolent character, as described in this indictment, is exactly what could get him re-elected in 2024.