Former President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty for the third time in four months and a second time by U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith.
The not guilty pleas happened in a Washington, D.C. federal court on Aug. 3 at about 4:25 p.m. Trump, appearing in court in his trademark red tie and dark suit after his plan from New Jersey landed at about 2:50 p.m. in the nation’s capitol, faces three conspiracy charges related to attempting to maintain power after losing to Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election: one to defraud the United States, a second to obstruct an official government proceeding and a third to deprive people of civil rights provided by federal law or the Constitution.
Additionally, Trump is charged with a fourth count of obstructing an official proceeding. Unlike the federal case in Florida, the former president is the sole defendant in this case.
“The purpose of the conspiracy was to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the federal government function by which those results are collected, counted, and certified,” the indictments states.
A federal grand jury returned the indictment in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 1, a little more than eight months after U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed Smith to oversee both the election tampering and classified documents inquiries into Trump.
Trump was warned against violating the conditions of release and the judge tells him “to listen carefully” because if he fails to comply, a warrant may be issued for his arrest, the conditions of release may be revoked, he may be held pending trial and receive a longer sentence and could be charged with contempt of court. The first hearing for the trial will be Aug. 28.
Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche says there may be massive amounts of discovery. To have time to prepare, he says, the defense needs from the government an estimate of the volume of discovery — such as documents and electronic files — and, most importantly the degree to which they have exculpatory information on behalf of Trump.
“This is a very sad day for America…This was never supposed to happen in America,” Trump said after his court appearance. “When you look at what’s happening, this is a persecution of a political opponent…that’s leading by very, very substantial numbers in the Republican primary and leading Biden by a lot. So if you can’t beat him, you persecute him or you prosecute him. We can’t let this happen in America.”
“As described in the indictment, [Trump’s actions were] fueled by lies. Lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election,” said Smith in a statement after the charges were unsealed.
Smith added that his team is not done as “our investigation of other individuals continues.”
U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan has been assigned the criminal case against Trump for election subversion. An appointee of former President Barack Obama, Chutkan is known for being among the harshest sentencers in the January 6 Capitol riot cases.
The Trump 2024 Campaign released a statement after the unsealing, saying the indictments were part of an ongoing political witch hunt, wondering why the charges were brought up now as the 2024 Presidential campaign begin to kick into gear and as a diversion from Republicans ramping up their investigations into President Joe Biden, his administration and family members.
“This is nothing more than the latest corrupt chapter in the continued pathetic attempt by the Biden Crime Family and their weaponized Department of Justice to interfere with the 2024 Presidential Election, in which President Trump is the undisputed frontrunner, and leading by substantial margins,” the campaign said in a statement.
“These un-American witch hunts will fail and President Trump will be re-elected to the White House so he can save our Country from the abuse, incompetence, and corruption that is running through the veins of our Country at levels never seen before.”
In the 45 page indictment, Trump is alleged to have made statements about election results in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—all he knew to be false.
Despite declarations from state leaders and elections officials that no fraud occurred, Trump continued to say vote totals were in his favor and worked with six unnamed co-conspirators to influence state legislators to decertify results, according to the indictment.
“These prolific lies about election fraud included dozens of specific claims that there had been substantial fraud in certain states, such as that large numbers of dead, non-resident, non-citizen or otherwise ineligible voters had cast ballots, or that voting machines had changed votes for the Defendant to votes for Biden,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.
The indictments lays out the crimes as
- “a conspiracy to defraud the United States by using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit to impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful federal government function by which the results of the presidential election are collected, counted, and certified by the federal government…”;
- “a conspiracy to corruptly obstruct and impede the January 6 congressional proceeding at which the collected results of the presidential election are counted and certified;” and
- “a conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.”
If convicted on all Jan. 6 charges, Trump faces a total of 35 years in jail.
Plan to Stay in Power
The indictment focuses on plans by Trump and co-conspirators to replace legitimate electors in seven key states, which Biden in fact won, with fraudulent electors pledged to Trump.
Federal prosecutors listed five steps Trump took escalating as each effort failed to bring his desired result as GOP elected officials in those states continually told him had lost.
But that did not deter Trump and his co-conspirators from continuing to pressured state legislators and election officials in the seven states to switch the legitimate election results in those states from Biden to Trump.
Trump and his team organized fraudulent slates of electors, which they sought to replace the legitimate Biden electors, according to the indictment.
The fake electors would then be seen as a pretext for the the former president ordering what the indictments calls a “sham” U.S. Justice Department investigations into election crimes in certain states, and considered having DOJ officials send letters outlining supposed concerns with the elections in those states.
According to plan, Trump would stay in power as lawsuits would make their way through the courts past the Jan. 20, 2021 inauguration.
Battle With Pence
As all of this was happening, Trump and his allies mounted a pressure campaign against then Vice President Mike Pence for him to use his ceremonial role to certify the election results on Jan. 6, 2021 to authenticate the fraudulent electors, the indictment reads.
In the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, Pence repeatedly told Trump and others that he did not believe what was being asked was allowed by the U.S. Constitution and would certify the vote to make Biden the next President.
The indictment includes details of a various conversations that Trump had with his vice president. The two spoke by phone on New Year’s Day when Trump “berated” Pence and told him, “You’re too honest” after the vice president opposed a lawsuit seeking to give him authority to reject or return votes to the states.
Events on Jan. 6
Tensions were so heightened the day before the Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6, Pence’s chief of staff alerted the vice president’s Secret Service detail that he was worried for his boss’ safety after talking with Trump that day.
When Pence declined to participate, Trump repeated to supporters at the rally Jan. 6 in Washington that Pence did have the authority to change the election result and “directed them to the Capitol to obstruct the certification proceeding.”
As the crowd turned violent, charging the U.S. Capitol, Trump and his co-conspirators used the chaos to continue launching claims of election fraud and attempting to convince members of Congress to delay the proceeding, prosecutors alleged.
The latest indictment is the second Smith has brought against Trump. The former president in June pleaded not guilty to a 37 count indictment against Trump for breaching the Espionage Act due to his handling of classified documents at his Mar-A-Lago estate.
That case was updated just last week and added another charge revolving around Trump allegedly telling the property manager of Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, that he wanted security camera footage there to be deleted.
The revised indictment added attempting to “alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal evidence”; inducing someone else to do so; and a new count under the Espionage Act related to a classified national security document that he showed to visitors at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.
The Florida case has a preliminary start date of May 20, 2024.
New York, Georgia Cases
Before the federal charges were brought, Trump was first indicted in April by the Manhattan District Attorney on 34 counts with filing false business records and conspiracy related to paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Additionally, an investigation in Georgia related to the actions of Trump and his surrogates to have the 2020 Presidential Election reversed is reportedly nearing a conclusion with indictments expected to be made in the near future.
Despite his legal troubles, Trump continues to be the top choice for GOP voters in national polls.