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Trump indicted on four counts in connection with efforts to overturn the 2020 election
A grand jury voted to indict Trump as a result of Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation. Now, a jury — and America — will decide what it means.
Donald J. Trump was indicted on four felony counts Tuesday by the federal grand jury empaneled in Washington, DC, as part of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
"The Defendant lost the 2020 presidential election,” the opening page of the federal indictment states plainly. “Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power.”
The 45-page indictment goes on to lay out both the unprecedented scope of the 45th president’s efforts to cling to power, as well as the substantial help that he had in trying to do so.
The indictment centers around what it alleges was Trump’s pursuit of “unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the election results” through three criminal conspiracies aimed at a “bedrock” federal function: “the nation's process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
Trump was charged in this indictment accordingly — with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding (as well as obstruction of and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding), and conspiracy against rights — specifically, “the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.”
As others had noted in the run-up to Tuesday’s indictment following Trump’s receipt of a target letter, the historical importance of that final charge is in its historical pedigree.
In a report from The Brennan Center’s Sean Morales-Doyle and Gabriella Sanchez, they wrote:
The provision was originally passed as part of the Enforcement Act of 1870 — the first of several Enforcement Acts, also dubbed the Ku Klux Klan Acts, that aimed to protect the rights newly recognized in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments from infringement by entities like the Klan. … Section 241 criminalizes conspiracies to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person” from freely exercising a constitutional right. … While historically used to prosecute the Klan for deterring Black Americans from exercising their voting rights, the law has been applied to punish broader efforts to subvert election outcomes for over a century.
More than that, such enforcement is at the root of the Justice Department itself.
In Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Senate confirmation hearing in 2021, he referenced that very history, noting, “of the origins of the Department,” that DOJ was “founded during Reconstruction, in the aftermath of the Civil War, to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.”
Garland continued: “The first Attorney General appointed by President Grant to head the new Department led it in a concerted battle to protect black voting rights from the violence of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan.”
More than 150 years later, Trump’s initial appearance on charges that include one of those Reconstruction-era laws is set for Thursday, according to an order in the case relating to the initial and temporary sealing of the indictment.
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Tuesday’s charges, obviously, are not the only charges Trump faces currently — while also still the far-and-away front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination for president — although they are, arguably, the most serious.
Trump also faces federal charges in Florida out of Smith’s investigation relating to classified document retention and alleged obstruction and state charges in New York relating to hush money and “catch and kill” agreements surrounding the 2016 election. State charges against Trump could be coming in Georgia any time now as well.
In a brief statement following the unsealing of Tuesday’s indictment, Smith noted that “[his] office will seek a speedy trial” to allow the charges to be “tested in court and judged by a jury of citizens” and reiterated the fact that these are charges and that Trump, like all people charged with a crime, is presumed innocent.
The conspiracy to defraud the United States charge sums up the case against Trump and is the count used to lay out the story — over 40 painstakingly detailed pages — of the former president’s efforts to overturn the election.
The alleged conspiracy and its purpose, succinctly stated on the third page of the indictment, sets the stage for the almost unimaginable story.
“The purpose of the conspiracy was to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the federal government function by which those results are collected, counted, and certified,” the indictment alleges.
The indictment also lists six co-conspirators, albeit without names. (More to come on this, of course.)
In the 38 pages that follow, the indictment lays out its allegation that Trump knew his election fraud claims were false. It details actions taken to get state officials to overturn Joe Biden’s wins in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, as well as the fake elector scheme efforts that followed in those states, Nevada, and New Mexico. It then details how Trump used the Department of Justice to advance his scheme, attempted to get Vice President Mike Pence to do so on Jan. 6, and attempted to “exploit the violence and chaos at the Capitol” on Jan. 6 to do the same.
The conclusion of the first count paints as stark a picture as any other in the document, which is full of such pictures.
There will be much more ahead, but, ultimately, a jury — and America — will decide what all of this means.
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