WASHINGTON — A grand jury in Washington returned a four-count indictment Tuesday criminally charging former President Trump with trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election and subvert lawful votes.
The indictment from special counsel Jack Smith is the result of months of investigating Trump. The grand jury heard testimony from allies, aides and officials all the way up the presidential succession order to former Vice President Mike Pence.
The new charges, the third indictment of Trump this year, are likely to land with a more complicated political thud, marking the first time the U.S. criminal justice system has sought to punish a leader for actions regarding the transfer of power.
Here are five takeaways from the indictment:
The felony charges detailed in Smith’s indictment list three conspiracies that targeted the core government function of holding a free and fair election.
First, Smith accused Trump of a conspiracy to defraud the United States. This charge hinges on what prosecutors describe as using "dishonesty, fraud and deceit” to obstruct the electoral process.
Second, the indictment argues there was a conspiracy to obstruct the election’s official proceeding, particularly the counting of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6.
And finally, it cites a conspiracy against voting rights, alleging Trump and his co-conspirators willfully sought to disenfranchise voters.
Trump received a fourth charge, of obstructing and attempting to obstruct the vote certification proceeding.
The indictment refers to six unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators who assisted Trump in his efforts to overturn the results of the election and cling to power, including one Justice Department official, a political consultant and four attorneys. Some of those have been identified.
The first co-conspirator listed is likely to be Rudy Giuliani, whose attorney told NBC News that it did appear to be his client but who could prove that Trump was acting in good faith, not maliciously.
The others, based on past reporting of their actions described in the indictment, appear to be: attorney John Eastman, whose lawyer confirmed it was likely him described in the indictment; attorney Sydney Powell; Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official; and Kenneth Chesebro, an attorney accused of participating in the "fake electors" scheme.
Trump pressed officials, the indictment alleges, in seven states to subvert the results of the election and change electoral votes: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.
Trump lost the vote in all seven states, but by varying margins. He lost in Georgia by less than 12,000 votes, or less than a percentage point. But he lost New Mexico by about 100,000 votes, which was more than 10 percentage points.
Some fraudulent electors "were tricked into participating," according to the document.
While many of the details of the effort to overturn the 2020 election were made public during the public hearings and in the report of the House Jan. 6 Committee, the indictment did provide a few new nuggets. Notably, Trump and his allies were still trying to contact lawmakers long after the violence erupted in the Capitol.
Trump and his allies reached out to seven lawmakers, the indictment alleges, including six senators and a congressman.
“In one of the calls, Co-Conspirator 1 left a voicemail intended for a United States Senator that said, ‘We need you, our Republican friends, to try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you. And I know they’re reconvening at eight tonight but the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow — ideally until the end of tomorrow,’” the indictment says.
First Amendment and warnings
Trump was notified repeatedly that his claims about the election were untrue, with Pence and senior government officials warning him and his co-conspirators that their efforts to hold onto office could lead to civil unrest. On Jan. 4, after one unnamed co-conspirator acknowledged to a senior Trump adviser that “no court would support his proposal” to reject electoral votes cast for President Biden, the adviser responded, “You’re going to cause riots in the streets.”
The indictment acknowledges Trump’s right under the First Amendment to lie about the outcome of the election and to maintain that the results were fraudulent. The former president was also entitled to formally challenge the election results, including through recounts or audits of vote tallies, or by filing lawsuits.