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Trump, Justice Department trade accusations of election interference

Special counsel Jack Smith files charges against the former president

A protester outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday Associated Press/Photo by Jose Luis Magana

Trump, Justice Department trade accusations of election interference

An email from the Trump campaign went out Tuesday, soon after the Justice Department announced a federal indictment against the former president. For a $47 donation, supporters can get an “I stand with Trump” T-shirt. The same email called the indictment a “politically-charged witch hunt intended to destroy our 2024 campaign.”

The email underscores the political significance of the latest indictment from special counsel Jack Smith, which charges former President Donald Trump with four counts of conspiracy and obstruction between Election Day 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021. Each count carries an undetermined fine, and three of them also carry the option of prison sentences—though incarceration would be unusual in a case like this. Outside the courtroom, the case could have earthshaking effects in the political arena.

The indictment

Although the 45-page indictment cites six co-conspirators, it only names Trump. That could mean that Smith is declining to prosecute the others or that he is waiting to add charges, as he did in the classified documents case. The indictment includes evidence from Smith’s own investigation, as well as testimony given to the House subcommittee investigating Jan. 6. After the subcommittee concluded its hearings, it recommended several criminal charges to the Justice Department.

Smith is prosecuting Trump only for actions committed after Nov. 3, Election Day, 2020. In the indictment introduction, he wrote that even though Trump has the First Amendment right to speak publicly about his beliefs, his actions constituted at least three criminal conspiracies and criminal obstruction of certifying the 2020 results.

Smith said his office will pursue a speedy trial. Trump has multiple trials scheduled in civil and criminal cases between now and next May, so it is unclear whether the judge will allow courtroom action before the 2024 election. At a news conference Tuesday, Smith urged the public to remember that Trump is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The charges

Prosecutors are bringing four federal criminal counts against Trump. The first, conspiracy to defraud the United States, accuses him of trying multiple avenues to flip votes from Biden to himself. The bulk of the indictment explains the actions he allegedly took with the help of co-conspirators. According to the indictment, Trump’s advisers repeatedly told him they could not find evidence of “outcome-determinative fraud,” meaning that any fraud that occurred was not widespread enough to change the outcome of the election. Despite those warnings, the indictment claims, Trump tried to push state officials and courts to pursue lawsuits based on claims of widespread election fraud.

The indictment states that co-conspirators also targeted seven states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—to set up electors to send in certificates for a Trump win. Trump allegedly pressured Justice Department officials, including the acting attorney general, to affirm claims of widespread fraud. The indictment shares notes from then–Vice President Mike Pence from meetings in which Trump insisted he overturn the Electoral College vote count in Congress against White House counsel’s advice.

“The defendant’s knowingly false statements were integral to his criminal plans to defeat the federal government function, obstruct the certification, and interfere with others’ right to vote and have their votes counted,” Smith wrote in the indictment.

The special counsel did not accuse Trump of seditious conspiracy, a charge many of the Jan. 6 defendants have faced. The indictment alleges that Trump hyped up the crowd at his “Stop the Steal” rally outside the White House on Jan. 6 and then “exploited the disruption” by calling members of Congress late into the night asking them to block Biden’s win.

Trump chose not to appear before the grand jury in the allotted four-day window after he received a target letter stating he was the subject of the investigation. Officials from his administration testified, including former White House senior adviser (and Trump’s son-in-law) Jared Kushner, top Trump aide Hope Hicks, and former White House aide and current campaign assistant William Russell.

The response

Trump is rallying his supporters around indignation over the charges.

“And as of TODAY—August 1, 2023—they have once again unjustly indicted President Trump in the most egregious act of ELECTION INTERFERENCE our country has ever seen,” the Trump campaign said in its email Tuesday evening. “But still, our movement is MORE UNITED than ever.”

Trump has already spent nearly $43 million in legal fees this year. Several of his political committees have set up legal donation funds.

Most Republican officials so far have avoided criticizing Trump directly. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy asked why the Justice Department has not been as rigorous in investigating Hunter Biden, his business dealings, and possible involvement with President Joe Biden. Others also pointed to the indictment process rather than addressing the charges.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president, said he does not trust the grand jury was objective. He tweeted that Washington “is a ‘swamp’ and it is unfair to have to stand trial before a jury that is reflective of the swamp mentality. … No more excuses—I will end the weaponization of the federal government.

Other Republicans were more critical. Former Vice President Mike Pence and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, both presidential candidates, implied that Trump is not ethically qualified to return to the Oval Office.

Up next

The case has been assigned to Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee. Chutkan previously ruled against Trump’s executive privilege claims in 2021, ordering the National Archives to hand over documents related to Jan. 6 to the House subcommittee investigating the matter. Chutkan twice rejected Trump’s executive privilege claims. She has also sentenced Jan. 6 defendants to more prison time than the prosecution requested.

Trump has been summoned to the federal courthouse in Washington, less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol, on Thursday. The arraignment will allow him to enter a plea and set any bail conditions if applicable. Judge Moxila Upadhyaya, a federal magistrate judge, will preside.

Clara York contributed to this report.

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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