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WASHINGTON, D.C., 1 August 2023: Television news crews set up outside of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. District Court House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, 1 August 2023. Members of a grand jury met to examine former U.S. President Donald Trump's role in the 6 January riot and effort to overturn the 2020 election. (Photo by Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Trump Faces New Charges for Obstruction and Conspiracy About Election Fraud, 6 January Riots

Former U.S. President Donald Trump now faces a third indictment, notably on charges that he participated in a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election results, including by exploiting angry crowds who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on 6 January.

A grand jury voted to charge Trump with conspiracy to defraud the United States, witness tampering and conspiracy against the rights of citizens, and an attempt to obstruct an official proceeding. The charges were announced 1 August in Washington, D.C., following an investigation by U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith.

“The attack on our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy,” said Smith in a short statement before reporters. “As described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies. Lies by the defendant, targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government—the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.”

The indictment notes that Trump was well within his rights as an American to speak publicly about the election and to claim—even falsely—that there has been fraud during the election.

Trump “was also entitled to formally challenge the results of the election through lawful and appropriate means, such as by seeking recounts or audits of the popular vote in states or filing lawsuits challenging ballots and procedures,” the indictment reads. Trump did pursue those legal avenues, even though they resulted in dead ends.

However, Trump allegedly knew the claims of fraud were false 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,” the indictment said.

In addition to legal means of challenging the election, the indictment alleges that Trump pursued unlawful means of discounting the election results.

Trump, who denied the charges and called the case “ridiculous” on social media, has been summoned to appear before the court on Thursday to enter his plea. He remains the frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates for the 2024 election.  

The former president is facing four charges in this 45-page indictment:

  • One count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. This charge focuses on Trump’s alleged efforts to knowingly spread false claims about the November 2020 election to get the results overturned.

  • One count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. This charge relates to alleged organized planning by Trump and his allies to disrupt the certification of the electoral votes in January 2021.

  • One count of obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding. This charge is tied to actual alleged efforts from Trump and his co-defendants between the November 2020 election and 7 January 2021 to block the official certification proceeding in Congress.

  • One count of conspiracy against rights. This charge applies to Trump’s alleged attempts to “oppress, threaten, and intimidate” people in their right to vote. This charge dates back to the Civil War era, when it was passed to stop members of the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations from intimidating, harassing, or terrorizing Black voters, NPR noted.

The charges apply to Trump’s repeated and widespread efforts to knowingly spread false claims about the November 2020 election—claims that were repeatedly refuted by significant advisors across Trump’s administration and inner circle. This also relates to allegedly attempting to illegally discount legitimate votes to overturn the election, NPR reported. The indictment lists—but does not name—six co-conspirators here, including four attorneys, a U.S. Justice Department official, and a political consultant.

The count of conspiracy includes the alleged organization of fraudulent slates of electors in seven key states, attempting to mimic legitimate electors’ procedures, and falsely represent the electorate.

In addition, “the Defendant and co-conspirators attempted to use the power and authority of the Justice Department to conduct sham election crime investigations and to send a letter to the targeted states that falsely claimed that the Justice Department had identified significant concerns that may have impacted the lection outcome,” the indictment said.

The alleged conspirators attempted to enlist thenU.S. Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the election on 6 January during a joint session of Congress. On 5 January, the indictment said, Trump and Pence met privately, and Pence refused to agree to Trump’s request to obstruct the certification. Frustrated, Trump allegedly said that he would have to publicly criticize Pence for the refusal.

“Upon learning of this, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff was concerned for the Vice President’s safety and alerted the head of the Vice President’s Secret Service detail,” according to the indictment.

When that pressure campaign failed, Trump and his allies repeated false claims of election fraud to gathered supporters on 6 January “and directed them to the Capitol to obstruct the certification proceeding and exert pressure on the Vice President to take the fraudulent actions he had previously refused.”

The indictment continued: “After it became public on the afternoon of January 6 that the Vice President would not fraudulently alter the election results, a large and angry crowd—including many individuals whom the Defendant had deceived into believing the Vice President could and might change the election results—violently attacked the Capitol and halted the proceeding. 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.”

The indictment outlines claims that Trump exploited the violence and chaos at the U.S. Capitol building, including issuing messages on Twitter “to further delay and obstruct the certification” and refusing to approve messages directing rioters to leave the Capitol. Furthermore, on the evening of 6 January, Trump and multiple co-conspirators allegedly attempted to convince lawmakers to further delay the election certification, leveraging claims of election fraud.

Trump faces two other criminal cases at the moment, including for allegedly falsifying business records and mishandling classified documents. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases. The latest indictment puts the number of criminal charges Trump faces at 78, and he will have three criminal trials to attend in the next 12 to 18 months, the BBC reported. He is likely to face a fourth set of charges in the next few weeks as a county prosecutor in Georgia continues an investigation into accusations that Trump tried to undo his 2020 election loss in that state.

The 6 January riots continue to have significant legal and security implications. U.S. federal agencies have had to reevaluate how they rely on open-source data and how they share and analyze threat intelligence. Perimeter security and protest preparedness measures have been overhauled. And more than 1,000 people have been charged in connection with the attack, Reuters reported.

As NPR noted, “That list now includes Trump.”