Donald Trump was charged Tuesday in a Justice Department investigation into his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the run-up to the violent riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol.
The charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States government and witness tampering.
The indictment, the third criminal case brought against the former president as he seeks to reclaim the White House in 2024, follows a long-running federal investigation into schemes by Trump and his allies to subvert the peaceful transfer of power and keep him in office despite a decisive loss to Joe Biden.
Even in a year of rapid-succession legal reckonings for Trump, Tuesday’s criminal case was especially stunning in its allegations that a former president assaulted the underpinnings of democracy in a frantic and ultimately failed effort to cling to power.
Federal prosecutors say Donald Trump was “determined to remain in power” in conspiracies that targeted a “bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
Trump is due in court on Thursday before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.
The criminal case comes while Trump leads the field of Republicans vying to capture their party’s presidential nomination. It is sure to be dismissed by the former president and his supporters — and even some of his rivals — as just another politically motivated prosecution. Yet the charges stem from one of the most serious threats to American democracy in modern history.
They focus on the turbulent two months after the November 2020 election in which Trump refused to accept his loss and spread lies that victory was stolen from him. The turmoil resulted in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump loyalists violently broke into the building, attacked police officers and disrupted the congressional counting of electoral votes.
In between the election and the riot, Trump urged local election officials to undo voting results in their states, pressured former Vice President Mike Pence to halt the certification of electoral votes and falsely claimed that the election had been stolen — a notion repeatedly rejected by judges.
The indictment had been expected since Trump said in mid-July that the Justice Department informed him he was a target of its long-running Jan. 6 investigation. A bipartisan House committee that spent months investigating the run-up to the Capitol riot also recommended prosecuting Trump on charges, including aiding an insurrection and obstructing an official proceeding.
The mounting criminal cases against Trump — not to mention multiple civil cases — are unfolding in the heat of the 2024 race. A conviction in this case, or any other, would not prevent Trump from pursuing the White House or serving as president.
In New York, state prosecutors have charged Trump with falsifying business records about a hush money payoff to a porn actor before the 2016 election. The trial begins in late March.
In Florida, the Justice Department has brought more than three dozen felony counts against Trump accusing him of illegally possessing classified documents after leaving the White House and concealing them from the government. The trial begins in late May.
The latest federal indictment against Trump focuses heavily on actions taken in Washington, and the trial will be held there, in a courthouse located between the White House he once occupied and the Capitol his supporters once stormed. No trial date has been set.
Prosecutors in Georgia are investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to reverse his election loss to Biden there in 2020. The district attorney of Fulton County is expected to announce a decision on whether to indict the former president in early August.
The investigation of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election was led by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith. His team of prosecutors has questioned senior Trump administration officials before a grand jury in Washington, including Pence and top lawyers from the Trump White House.
Rudy Giuliani, a Trump lawyer who pursued post-election legal challenges, spoke voluntarily to prosecutors as part of a proffer agreement, in which a person’s statements can’t be used against them in any future criminal case that is brought.