(CNN) — Donald Trump has been indicted on criminal charges by a federal grand jury in a case that strikes at the former president’s efforts to remain in the White House after losing the 2020 election and undermine the long-held American tradition of a peaceful transfer of presidential power.
Trump is scheduled to appear at the Washington, DC, federal courthouse at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday.
As part of special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation, Trump was charged with: Conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights.
“(F)or more than two months following election day on November 3, 2020, the defendant spread lies that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won,” the indictment states.
“These claims were false, and the Defendant knew they were false,” it adds, referring to Trump. “But the defendant disseminated them anyway – to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election.”
The plot to overturn the 2020 election shattered presidential norms and culminated in an unthinkable physical assault on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, as Congress met to validate President Joe Biden’s victory. Even before that, Trump engaged in an unprecedented pressure campaign toward state election workers and lawmakers, Justice Department officials and even his own vice president to persuade them to throw out the 2020 results.
Trump ‘exploited’ January 6 attack, prosecutors say
The indictment alleges that Trump and co-conspirators “exploited” the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by continuing efforts to convince members of Congress to delay the certification of the election.
“As violence ensued, the Defendant and co-conspirators exploited the disruption by redoubling efforts to levy false claims of election fraud and convince Members of Congress to further delay the certification based on those claims,” according to the indictment.
The indictment also says that Trump had deceived many rioters to believe then-Vice President Mike Pence could change the election results to make Trump the victor.
Six unindicted co-conspirators were included in the filing.
Among the six are four unnamed attorneys who allegedly aided Trump in his effort to subvert the 2020 election. Also included is one unnamed Justice Department official who “attempted to use the Justice Department to open sham election crime investigations and influence state legislatures with knowingly false claims of election fraud.”
The indictment also mentions an unnamed “political consultant who helped implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding.”
Trump faces charge dealt against many January 6 rioters
The first count Trump is facing, conspiracy to defraud the United States, is brought under a statute that can be used to prosecute a broad range of conspiracies involving two or more people to violate US law.
Two other counts relate to obstruction of an official proceeding – brought under provisions included in a federal witness tampering statute that has also been used to prosecute some of the rioters who breached the Capitol.
Those counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment. The appropriateness of using the law to prosecute the rioters has been litigated in the Capitol breach cases.
Trump also faces a conspiracy against rights charge under a Reconstruction-era civil rights law. The law prohibits two or more people from conspiring to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any….the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
It carries a 10 year maximum sentence of imprisonment, unless the conspiracy results in death.
Smith’s move to bring charges will test whether the criminal justice system can be used to hold Trump to account for his post-election conduct after he was acquitted in his impeachment trial related to his actions that day.
The indictment is the second time in two months that Smith has brought charges against Trump. In June, Trump was charged with retention of classified documents and conspiracy with a top aide to hide them from the government and his own attorneys. And separately in March, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump on state charges of falsifying business records.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in both cases – and is likely to do so again when he’s arraigned on the latest charges.
The new special counsel indictment comes as Trump remains the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. The first two indictments have done little to impact his standing in the race.
Trump’s March indictment marked the first time in US history that a former president had faced criminal charges. Now there are three separate, concurrent cases where the president is facing felony allegations, which are all going to play out as Trump seeks to return to the White House in 2024 following his loss to Biden in 2020.
Fake electors plot was an unprecedented attempt to subvert Electoral College
The so-called fake electors plot was an unprecedented attempt to subvert the Electoral College process by replacing electors that Biden had rightfully won with illegitimate GOP electors.
Trump supporters in seven key states met on December 14, 2020, and signed fake certificates, falsely proclaiming that Trump actually won their state and they were the rightful electors. They submitted these fake certificates to Congress and to the National Archives, in anticipation that their false claims would be embraced during the Electoral College certification on January 6, 2021.
At the time, their actions were largely dismissed as an elaborate political cosplay. But it eventually became clear that this was part of an orchestrated plan.
Senior Trump campaign officials orchestrated the fake electors plot and directly oversaw the state-by-state mechanics – linking Trump’s campaign apparatus to what originally looked like a hapless political stunt by local Trump supporters.
Federal investigators have subpoenaed the fake electors across the country, sent FBI agents to interview witnesses about their conduct, and recently granted immunity to two fake electors from Nevada to secure their grand jury testimony.
In Michigan, the state’s attorney general charged the 16 fake electors who signed certificates falsely claiming Trump won Michigan in the 2020 election with multiple felonies. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is also expected to ask a grand jury this month to bring charges related to efforts in Georgia to subvert the election results.