Donald Trump has been officially charged with four federal crimes related to the lead-up to the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, Special Counsel Jack Smith announced on Tuesday. This comes as evidence of the former president’s attempts to subvert the democratic process – such as enlisting Vice President Mike Pence to “fraudulently alter the election results” – has come to light in the form of “contemporaneous notes” taken by Pence himself.
The indictment confirms that the momentous fallout from January 6 had its origins days before in Trump’s increasingly desperate bid to overturn the 2020 election results. The 45-page indictment states that Trump “Sought to enlist the Vice President to use his ceremonial role at the certification to fraudulently alter the election results”.
On phone calls with Pence on December 25, 2020, and New Year’s Day, Trump allegedly made “knowingly false claims of election fraud” and told his VP that the Justice Department was “finding major infractions” – a claim which Smith brands as false. On the New Year’s Day call, Pence recounts in his memoir that Trump said “You’re too honest. Hundreds of thousands are gonna hate your guts… People are gonna think you’re stupid.”
On January 4, another plan was put forward by “Co-Conspirator 2”, which was discussed on a teleconference between Trump, Pence, Marc Short, and Greg Jacob. The indictment states that the White House Council was excluded from the call “because the White House Counsel previously had pushed back on the Defendant's false claims of election fraud".
The next day, Trump’s rhetoric stepped up a notch as he gathered his supporters to the rally at the Capitol. The indictment notes that when the crowd heard Pence was due to ceremonially certify Joe Biden’s victory, allegations of treachery rained down on the former Vice President with chants of “Hang Mike Pence” and “Traitor Pence”.
In a statement following Trump’s indictment, Pence accused the former president of placing himself above the Constitution, stating “Today's indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States. I will have more to say about the government’s case after reviewing the indictment.” The now-2024 GOP hopeful also stressed Trump’s right to the presumption of innocence.
Trump is now facing four federal charges including; 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. If convicted, the former president faces up to 20 years in prison.
The Trump legal team is yet to comment on the indictment, but sources close to the team have confirmed they are preparing to fight the charges. As the case proceeds, the courts and Commonwealth alike must wrestle with a key question; just how far will the Trump legacy go in terms of undermining the democratic process?