A federal grand jury has indicted former President Donald J. Trump in the 2020 election interference probe, marking the third time this year that Trump has been criminally charged – all in different jurisdictions and stemming from different criminal accusations.
The latest indictment accuses Trump of conspiring to overturn the results of his unsuccessful 2020 election and block the peaceful transfer of power. The federal indictment, which was returned on Aug. 1, 2023, by a grand jury in Washington D.C., may be the most consequential.
In this article, Board Certified Criminal Attorney Benson Varghese Varghese explains the latest Trump election interference indictment, recaps all of his pending criminal cases, and answers frequently asked questions about these historic and unprecedented developments.
Trump Election Interference Indictment
On August 1, 2023, a federal grand jury in Washington D.C. handed up a four-count indictment centered on Trump’s alleged efforts to discount legitimate votes in the 2020 presidential election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power. The 45-page election interference indictment charges Trump with:
- Conspiracy to Defraud the United States
This charge stems from allegations made by prosectuors that Trump repeatedly spread false claims about the November 2020 election knowing they weren’t true and allegedly attempted to discount legitimate votes. Prosecutors allege that Trump conspired with six others to “overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 president election.” The co-conspirators are not named or charged – as of yet.
- Conspiracy to Obstruct an Official Proceeding
This charge stems from accusations that Trump and his allies had an organized plan to obstruct the congressional confirmation of President Joe Biden’s election on January 6.
- Obstruction of and Attempt to Obstruct an Official Proceedings
This charge stems from accusations that Trump and his co-conspirators attempted to block Congress from confirming President Joe Biden’s election on January 6. This is the same charge brought against numerous rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.
- Conspiracy Against Rights
This charge stems from allegations that Trump and his co-conspirators attempted to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate” people to stop them from enjoying their constitutional rights.
Read the 45-page indictment here.
What Led to the Trump Election Interference Indictment?
In November 2020, Trump lost the presidential election to Joe Biden. Prosecutors allege that he refused to accept his loss and pronounced that the victory was stolen from him. The turmoil resulted in a riot at the Capitol when Trump supporters stormed into the building and disrupted the congressional counting of electoral votes.
In between the election and the riot, Trump allegedly urged local election officials to undo voting results in their states, pressured Mike Pence to halt the certification of electoral votes, and falsely claimed that the election had been stolen. Among the lies, prosecutors allege, Trump claimed that more than 10,000 dead voters had voted in Georgia along with tens of thousands of double votes in Nevada.
Who is Special Counsel Jack Smith?
Jack Smith, a veteran prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, was chosen to serve as Special Counsel in the investigations involving former U.S. President Donald J. Trump.
Smith was born in Clay, New York, on June 5, 1969, and his career in law began after attending State University of New York at Oneonta and later, Harvard Law School.
Shortly after graduating, he embarked on his legal career with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, eventually transitioning to a similar role at the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn. In November 2021, he received the appointment as Special Counsel, a role that tasked him with leading two crucial investigations involving Trump.
One investigation pertains to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including the events leading up to the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021. The second one scrutinizes Trump’s handling of classified materials, particularly the alleged retention of such materials at his Florida residence.
Trump’s Pending Criminal Cases
Trump is the first current or former U.S. president to face criminal charges. He currently is under both state and federal indictment. Here’s an overview of his three separate criminal cases. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges in all jurisdictions.
On March 30, 2023, a Manhattan grand jury indicted Trump on 34 counts of falsifying business records. These charges arise from allegations of hush-money payments made to a previous adult film actress in 2016. It is alleged that these payments were a component of a strategy to conceal Stormy Daniels’ assertions of having an affair with Trump.
The case is under the jurisdiction of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and a conviction for a felony charge of falsifying business records could lead to a maximum sentence of four years in New York state prison. Learn more.
On June 8, 2023, a federal grand jury in Florida indicted Trump on accusations that he improperly handled classified documents after he left the White House. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, lead by special counsel Jack Smith, is prosecuting this case, which includes 37 felony violations. Among the numerous charges he faces, the gravest carries a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Learn more.
On August 1, 2023, a federal grand jury in Washington D.C. indicted Trump on four federal charges alleging he tried to overthrow the 2020 presidential election and obstruct the peaceful transfer of power.
In the two-month span between Election Day 2020 and January 6, 2021, Trump allegedly initiated an extensive campaign to invalidate Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. Trump, along with his team, allegedly propagated incorrect information regarding voter fraud, persuaded Republican state officials to discredit the results in states won by Biden, composed fraudulent elector slates, and pressured Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally reject the authentic results. This endeavor peaked on January 6, when a group of Trump’s supporters invaded the Capitol, interrupting the peaceful transition of power. The case is being lead by Special Counsel Jack Smith.
Are More Charges Expected against Trump?
It is anticipated that in the coming weeks, a prosecutor in Georgia will aim to secure a grand jury indictment in an ongoing investigation into Donald Trump and his Republican associates’ alleged efforts to reverse Trump’s 2020 election defeat.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis initiated the investigation over two years ago, soon after the public release of a January 2021 recorded phone call made by Trump to the secretary of state of Georgia.
Willis has significantly indicated that any potential indictment could be issued between Monday and August 18. It is expected that one of the two grand juries, both convened on July 11, will review the case.
If a Georgia grand jury indicts Trump, it would contribute to an expanding list of legal challenges he faces during his presidential campaign.
Which Case Will Go First?
The U.S. Constitution or federal law doesn’t stipulate whether a federal or a state case should take precedence or whether prosecutions should proceed in the order in which indictments were issued. Consequently, it’s unclear which case will proceed first. While federal cases generally progress more swiftly than state cases, the unique nature of these specific cases makes it hard to predict the typical course of events.
Can Trump Still Run for President?
Yes! The eligibility criteria to run for President of the United States are detailed in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. It specifies that the candidate must
- Be a natural-born U.S. citizen
- Be a minimum of 35 years old
- Have been a U.S. resident for at least 14 years
There are no stipulations in place that preclude Trump, or anyone else for that matter, from making a bid for the presidency while being the subject of state or federal indictment. As a matter of fact, Trump has leveraged these criminal proceedings to further energize his presidential campaign.