What did Donald Trump do wrong in the last two months of his occupation of the White House? According to the new federal indictment handed down against him this afternoon, Trump conspired “to defraud the United States” and “overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election”… and that’s just the first of four counts filed today in the District of Columbia.
Specifically, Trump committed the following acts in support of his criminal conspiracy to subvert the vote, the Constitution, truth, and the peaceful transition of power:
a. The Defendant and co-conspirators used knowingly false claims of election fraud to get state legislators and election officials to subvert the legitimate election results and change electoral votes for the Defendant’s opponent, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., to electoral votes for the Defendant. That is, on the pretext of baseless fraud claims, the Defendant pushed officials in certain states to ignore the popular vote; disenfranchise millions of voters; dismiss legitimate electors; and ultimately, cause the ascertainment of and voting by illegitimate electors in favor of the Defendant.
b. The Defendant and co-conspirators organized fraudulent slates of electors in seven targeted states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), attempting to mimic the procedures that the legitimate electors were supposed to follow under the Constitution and other federal and state laws. This included causing the fraudulent electors to meet on the day appointed by federal law on which legitimate electors were to gather and cast their votes; cast fraudulent votes for the Defendant; and sign certificates falsely representing that they were legitimate electors. Some fraudulent electors were tricked into participating based on the understanding that their votes would be used only if the Defendant succeeded in outcome-determinative lawsuits within their state, which the Defendant never did. The Defendant and co-conspirators then caused these fraudulent electors to transmit their false certificates to the Vice President and other government officials to be counted at the certification proceeding on January 6.
c. 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 election outcome; that south to advance the Defendant’s fraudulent elector plan by using the Justice Department’s authority to falsely present the fraudulent electors as a valid alternative to the legitimate electors; and that urged, on behalf of the Justice Department, the targeted states’ legislatures to convene to create the opportunity to choose the fraudulent electors over the legitimate electors.
d. The Defendant and co-conspirators attempted to enlist the Vice President to use his ceremonial role at the January 6 certification proceeding to fraudulently alter the election results. First, using knowingly false claims of election fraud, the Defendant and co-conspirators attempted to convince the Vice President to use the Defendant’s fraudulent electors, reject legitimate electoral votes, or send legitimate electoral votes to state legislatures for review rather than counting them. When that failed, on the morning of January 6, the Defendant and co-conspirators repeated knowingly false claims of election fraud to gathered supporters, falsely told them that the Vice President had the authority to and might alter the election results, 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.
e. 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 [United States of America v. Donald J. Trump, Indictment, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, filed 2023.08.01, pp. 5–6].
Trump lied continually to push his power trip. When his lies resulted in violence against Congress, he used that violence to push further.
The indictment details Trump’s lies, his fake-elector schemes, his abuse of the Justice Department, his attempt to play the Pence card—
On January 1, the Defendant called the Vice President and berated him because he had learned that the Vice President had opposed a lawsuit seeking a judicial decision that, at the certification, the Vice President had the authority to reject or return votes to the states under the Constitution. The Vice President responded that he thought there was no constitutional basis for such authority and that it was improper. In response, the Defendant told the Vice President, “You’re too honest” [Indictment, 2023.08.01, p. 33].
—and his “exploitation of the violence and chaos” that his lies sowed:
The Defendant, who had returned to the White House after concluding his remarks, watched events at the Capitol unfold on the television in the dining room next to the Oval Office.
At 2:13 p.m., after more than an hour of steady, violent advancement, the crowd at the Capitol broke into the building.
Upon receiving news that individuals had breached the Capitol, the Defendant’s advisors told him that there was a riot there and that rioters had breached the building. When Advisors urged the Defendant to issue a calming message aimed at the rioters, the Defendant refused, instead repeatedly remarking that the people at the Capitol were angry because the election had been stolen [Indictment, 2023.08.01, pp. 39–40].
The indictment notes that even after Trump released his infamous video telling the rioters to go home and remember that they were “very special” and that “we love you”, Trump took advantage of the delay his riot caused to pressure members of Congress to further delay the certification.
Those details underpin all four charges against Trump: conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding (the certification of the electoral vote), actual obstruction of that official proceeding, and conspiracy against the rights of millions of Americans to vote. The first count can bring a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The second and third counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years. The fourth count could add another ten years.