Bloomberg Law
Aug. 1, 2023, 10:31 PM

Trump Indicted on Federal Charges in 2020 Election Probe (3)

Zoe Tillman
Zoe Tillman
Bloomberg News

Donald Trump has been indicted in Washington on federal charges over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the third politically explosive criminal prosecution of the former president as he makes his latest run for the White House.

The charges from Special Counsel John “Jack” Smith’s office can carry penalties of as much as 20 years in prison, but Trump would likely face far less than the maximum penalties if convicted since he doesn’t have a criminal record. Trump, 77, has been instructed to appear in court at 4 p.m. on Aug. 3.

WATCH: Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on federal charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election result. Jodi Schneider reports.
Source: Bloomberg

“The attack on our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” Smith told reporters after the indictment Tuesday. “Described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies. Lies by the defendant.”

He said the Justice Department was asking for a speedy trial and that the investigation of “other individuals” is continuing.

Trump was charged with conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against the right to vote and have that vote counted, according to the indictment filed Tuesday in federal court.

The indictment alleges Trump for months knowingly spread lies about the election being rigged in order to undermine public faith in the vote and remain in power.

“These claims were false, and the defendant knew they were false,” the government said in the indictment. “The defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway — to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election.”

Jack Smith speaks to reporters after Trump’s indictment in Washington, on Aug. 1.
Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

Read more: Trump 2020 Election Indictment: Timeline of the Case

Trump announced in mid-July that the Justice Department had notified him that he was a target of the investigation, which also relates to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters following a nationwide effort to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. Trump has denied any wrongdoing related to those events.

Just before the charges were announced Tuesday, Trump said in a Truth Social post he expected Smith to put out a “fake indictment” against him.

His lawyers John Lauro and Todd Blanche met with prosecutors at Smith’s office on July 27. Trump confirmed in a post online that the purpose of the meeting was to argue against any indictment.

The prosecution is likely to fuel Trump’s claim that he’s being targeted for political reasons, given that the case is being brought by the Justice Department under President Joe Biden — Trump’s expected opponent if he wins the Republican nomination. That line of attack has been popular with GOP voters and boosted his campaign fundraising. But Trump won’t be able to ignore the demands of yet another high-stakes prosecution on his already-crowded litigation and political calendar.

In a statement, the Trump campaign accused the Biden administration of politicizing the investigation because Trump is the front-runner for the Republican nomination. The campaign also questioned why it took more than two years after Jan. 6 to bring the charges.

Read More: Trump Election Probe Case Crowds Active Campaign Calendar

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Washington, is a 45-page narrative of alleged efforts by Trump and some of his allies to thwart the peaceful transfer of power to a lawfully elected successor.

The document alleges Trump enlisted a series of co-conspirators to help with his plan, including an unidentified attorney “who was willing to spread knowingly false claims” about the election and another unidentified lawyer who attempted to implement a strategy to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to obstruct the certification of Biden’s victory. A third lawyer also conspired to assist Trump despite telling others the plan was “crazy,” according to the indictment.

LISTEN: Robert Mintz, Former Federal Prosecutor and Partner at McCarter & English, discusses the indictment of Donald Trump. He spoke with host June Grasso on Bloomberg Radio.

There are moments of high drama in the indictment, including the pressure campaign against Pence.

Trump met with Pence on Jan. 5, telling his vice president that he would have to publicly criticize him. That led Pence’s chief of staff to fear for his safety, and he alerted the head of the vice president’s Secret Service detail, according to the indictment.

Other alleged co-conspirators described include a Justice Department official who allegedly tried to use the agency to open a “sham” investigation into the election to influence state legislatures; an attorney who assisted in devising a plan to use fake slates of presidential electors in states that Biden won; and a political consultant who participated in the plan.

Prosecutors alleged that the former president tried to use the Justice Department “to make knowingly false claims of election fraud to officials” through a formal letter signed by the acting attorney general, giving Trump’s “lies the backing of the federal government.”

Trump also tried to use his crowd of supporters on Jan. 6 to pressure his vice president to “fraudulently alter the election results,” prosecutors alleged.

Donald Trump
Photographer: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Smith’s office stopped short of criminally charging Trump with inciting the riot, but blamed him for deceiving many of them and alleged he “exploited the disruption” to try to again try to convince members of Congress to delay certifying the results.

For More: All the Charges Trump Now Faces and All the Prison Time Too

The indictment marks the second set of charges brought by Smith’s team. In June, Trump was charged in Florida with taking sensitive national defense documents with him after leaving office in 2021 and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them from his Mar-a-Lago estate. He’s also accused of directing employees to try to erase video surveillance footage of the storage room where records were kept after prosecutors subpoenaed it.

The former president is also fighting state charges in New York alleging he falsified business records in connection with payments to an adult film star before the 2016 election. And he’s bracing for a fourth possible indictment from a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, also in connection with the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in the Florida and New York cases. A trial is set for March 2024 in New York. The judge in Florida scheduled a May 20 trial date. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has signaled she will announce if her office is pressing charges by the end of August.

Trump unsuccessfully fought in court to stymie the investigation into his conduct. Avenues explored by prosecutors included efforts to organize slates of false electors in battleground states that Trump lost and to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to interfere with the certification of the results by Congress. Judges repeatedly rejected his challenges to subpoenas for grand jury appearances by Pence and a slew of other former top administration officials.

Politics and Polls

Despite his legal troubles, Trump continues to dominate the candidate field for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination as primary voters buy into the argument that the prosecution is politically motivated. A Siena College/New York Times poll released Monday showed 54% of likely GOP voters across demographics supporting the former president, compared to 17% for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, his closest competitor.

However, some Republican groups are evincing more concern about his legal woes. A super PAC with close ties to billionaire Charles Koch raised $78 million in the first half of 2023 to try and block Trump from the nomination in favor of another Republican it believes could beat Biden in a general election.

Trump’s political fundraising apparatus shows him burning through money at an unsustainable rate. For now, Trump has enough to compete in the GOP primary with more than $53 million in cash split between his campaign and super-PAC.

But if legal costs continue to pile up, he could face a money crunch in the general election against Biden, who has $77 million in cash. Democrats won’t have to touch that money for months, as opposed to Republicans who are spending millions now gearing up for what is likely to be a long and contentious primary.

Read more: Trump PACs Bleed Money on Legal Fees That Threaten Cash Crunch

The government acknowledged in the indictment that Trump “like every American” had a right to speak publicly about the election and even to claim falsely that there had been rampant voter fraud. Trump was also entitled to challenge the result in court “through lawful and appropriate means,” the US said. But Trump went too far by using illegal methods to change the vote, conspiring to defraud the US and obstruct the peaceful transition of power, according to the indictment.

“Each of these conspiracies — which built on the widespread mistrust the Defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud — targeted a bedrock function of the United States government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election,” the US said.

Read more: What Trump’s Many Legal Perils Mean for His 2024 Bid: QuickTake

(Updates with details of the indictment, Smith comment.)

--With assistance from Maria Luiza Rabello, Chris Strohm, Sabrina Willmer, Gregory Korte, Bill Allison, Airielle Lowe, Ryan Teague Beckwith and David Voreacos.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Zoe Tillman in Washington at;
Erik Larson in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Sara Forden at

Steve Stroth, Elizabeth Wasserman

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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