Trump hit with sweeping indictment in alleged effort to overturn 2020 election

It marks the third time former president has been indicted on criminal charges.

Former President Donald Trump, bent on staying in power, undertook a "criminal scheme" to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including repeatedly pushing lies about the results despite knowing his claims were false, and doubling down on those falsehoods as the Jan. 6 riot raged, a sweeping federal indictment alleges.

This is the third indictment faced by the former president, who -- as the Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential race -- continues to insist that the vote was rigged.

Prosecutors say the alleged scheme, which they say involved six unnamed co-conspirators, included enlisting a slate of so-called "fake electors" targeting several states; using the Justice Department to conduct "sham election crime investigations"; and trying to enlist the vice president to "alter the election results" -- all in an effort to subvert democracy and stay in power.

The six alleged co-conspirators include several attorneys and a Justice Department official.

The sweeping indictment, based on the investigation by special counsel Jack Smith, charges Trump with four felony counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.

The indictment alleges that Trump knew that the claims he advanced about the election, specifically in Arizona and Georgia, were false -- yet he repeated them for months.

It also highlights Trump's alleged pressure campaign on his own vice president, Mike Pence, alleging that he asked Pence during a Christmas Day phone call to reject the electoral votes on Jan. 6, that he told Pence on Jan. 1 that he was "too honest," and that he lied to Pence about election fraud to get him to accept a slate of fake electors. "Bottom line -- won every state by 100,000s of votes," Trump allegedly told Pence, according to the indictment. "We won every state."

PHOTO: FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at a meeting in Philadelphia, June 30, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a meeting in Philadelphia, June 30, 2023.
Matt Rourke/AP, FILE

When that didn't succeed, the indictment says, Trump pushed the crowd of supporters to pressure Pence into action on Jan. 6.

"Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power," the indictment reads. "So for more than two months following election day on November 3, 2020, the Defendant spread lies that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won."

"These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false. But the Defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway -- to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election," reads the indictment.

Trump, speaking to ABC News after the indictment was unsealed, described the new charges as a "pile-on."

"It's election interference," he told ABC News, saying he is "doing very well in the polls" and that he believes he will defeat President Joe Biden in 2024.

The former president has been summoned to appear in court on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

PHOTO: Special Counsel Jack Smith delivers remarks on a recently unsealed indictment alleging four felony counts against former U.S. President Donald Trump, Aug. 1, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Special Counsel Jack Smith delivers remarks on a recently unsealed indictment alleging four felony counts against former U.S. President Donald Trump, Aug. 1, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Pence, who is currently challenging Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination, said in a statement Friday evening, "Our country is more important than one man. Our constitution is more important than any one man’s career."

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"On January 6th, Former President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution," Pence said. "I chose the Constitution and I always will."

Speaking following the unsealing of the indictment, Smith called the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol "an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy."

The aim of the attack was "obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government and the nation's process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election," Smith said.

The Trump campaign, responding to the indictment on Trump's Truth Social platform, said, "The lawlessness of these persecutions of President Trump and his supporters is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes. President Trump has always followed the law and the Constitution, with advice from many highly accomplished attorneys."

The charges mark the third time the former president has been indicted on criminal charges, following his indictment last month in the special counsel's probe into his handling of classified materials after leaving office, and his indictment in April on New York state charges of falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

Trump, who has decried the probes as political witch hunts, pleaded not guilty to all charges in both those cases.

In the history of the country, no president or former president had ever been indicted prior to Trump's first indictment in April.

Trump was informed by Smith on July 16 that he was a target in the election probe.

A grand jury empaneled by Smith in Washington, D.C., has been speaking with witnesses ranging from former White House aides to state election officials. Among those testifying in recent weeks have been former top Trump aide Hope Hicks and Trump's son-in-law and former White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Investigators have also been speaking with election officials who are believed to have been part of the failed 2020 effort to put forward slates of so-called "fake electors" to cast electoral college votes for Trump on Jan. 6.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith to oversee both the election probe and the classified documents probe, after Trump's announcement in November that he was again running for president triggered the appointment of an independent special counsel to avoid a potential conflict of interest in the Justice Department.

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