Former US president Donald Trump has been charged by the US Justice Department for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The indictment focuses on schemes by Trump and his allies to subvert the transfer of power and keep him in office despite his loss to Joe Biden.
It is the third criminal case brought against the former president as he seeks to reclaim the White House.
A Trump spokesperson likened the new indictment to “Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes,” calling them “un-American”.
The criminal case comes as Trump leads the field of Republicans seeking their party’s 2024 presidential nomination. It centres on the turbulent two months between Trump’s November 2020 election loss and the January 6, 2021, US Capitol riot.
Trump denies doing anything wrong.
Shortly before the indictment was unsealed, Trump accused Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith’s team of trying to interfere with the election with what he called “yet another Fake Indictment”.
“Why didn’t they do this 2.5 years ago? Why did they wait so long?” he asked on his Truth Social site. “Because they wanted to put it right in the middle of my campaign. Prosecutorial Misconduct!”
The charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States government and witness tampering.
The indictment follows a long-running federal investigation into schemes by Trump and his allies to subvert the peaceful transfer of power and keep him in office despite a decisive loss to Joe Biden.
Even in a year of rapid-succession legal reckonings for Trump, Tuesday’s criminal case was expansive in its allegations that a former president assaulted the underpinnings of democracy in a frantic and ultimately failed effort to cling to power.
Federal prosecutors say Donald Trump was “determined to remain in power” in conspiracies that targeted a “bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election”.
The prosecutors said in the indictment that Trump knew his lies about his loss in the 2020 presidential election were false but pushed them anyway.
They said that for two months after his loss on November 3, 2020, the Republican spread lies to create an “intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger” and “erode public faith in the administration of the election”.
Trump repeatedly lied about the election even after being warned off his false statements by top government officials, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors cited an example in Georgia, where Trump claimed more than 10,000 dead people voted in four days after that state’s top elections official told him that was not true. Trump lost Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden.
The Republican contended that there were 205,000 more votes than voters in Pennsylvania after his own acting attorney general told him that was not true. He alleged more than 30,000 noncitizens voted in Arizona even though his own campaign manager said that was false.
Trump is due in court on Thursday before US District Judge Tanya Chutkan.
Trump’s campaign issued a statement calling the third indictment of the former president “nothing more than the latest corrupt chapter” in what the campaign characterised as a politically motivated “witch hunt”.
In a lengthy statement issued as the indictment was released on Tuesday, Trump’s campaign complained about the timing, asking why it had taken prosecutors two and a half years to bring the charges, in the middle the campaign and as Republicans ramp up their investigations into President Joe Biden.
“The answer is, election interference!” the statement said.
The campaign stated that “President Trump has always followed the law and the Constitution, with advice from many highly accomplished attorneys”.
The criminal case comes while Trump leads the field of Republicans vying to capture their party’s presidential nomination.
It is likely to be dismissed by the former president and his supporters — and even some of his rivals — as just another politically motivated prosecution. Yet the charges stem from one of the most serious threats to American democracy in modern history.
They focus on the turbulent two months after the November 2020 election in which Trump refused to accept his loss and spread lies that victory was stolen from him.
The turmoil resulted in the US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, when Trump loyalists violently broke into the building, attacked police officers and disrupted the congressional counting of electoral votes.
In between the election and the riot, Trump allegedly urged local election officials to undo voting results in their states, pressured former vice president Mike Pence to halt the certification of electoral votes and falsely claimed that the election had been stolen — a notion repeatedly rejected by judges.
The indictment had been expected since Trump said in mid-July that the Justice Department informed him he was a target of its long-running investigation.
A bipartisan House committee that spent months investigating the run-up to the Capitol riot also recommended prosecuting Trump on charges, including aiding an insurrection and obstructing an official proceeding.
The mounting criminal cases against Trump — not to mention multiple civil cases — are unfolding in the heat of the 2024 race. A conviction in this case, or any other, would not prevent Trump from pursuing the White House or serving as president.
In New York, state prosecutors have charged Trump with falsifying business records about a hush money payoff to an adult film actor before the 2016 election. The trial begins in late March.
In Florida, the Justice Department has brought more than three dozen felony counts against Trump accusing him of illegally possessing classified documents after leaving the White House and concealing them from the government. The trial begins in late May.
The latest federal indictment against Trump focuses heavily on actions taken in Washington, and the trial will be held there, in a court located between the White House he once occupied and the Capitol his supporters stormed. No trial date has been set.
Prosecutors in Georgia are investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to reverse his election loss to Joe Biden there in 2020. The district attorney of Fulton County is expected to announce a decision on whether to indict the former president in early August.
The investigation of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election was led by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith. His team of prosecutors has questioned senior Trump administration officials before a grand jury in Washington, including Pence and top lawyers from the Trump White House.
Rudy Giuliani, the Trump lawyer who pursued post-election legal challenges, spoke voluntarily to prosecutors as part of a proffer agreement, in which a person’s statements cannot be used against them in any future criminal case that is brought.
Prosecutors also interviewed election officials in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere who came under pressure from Trump and his associates to change voting results in states won by Biden, a Democrat.
Focal points of the Justice Department’s election meddling investigation included the role played by some of Trump’s lawyers, post-election fundraising, a chaotic December 2020 meeting at the White House in which some Trump aides discussed the possibility of seizing voting machines and the enlistment of fake electors to submit certificates to the National Archives and Congress falsely asserting that Trump, not Biden, had won their states’ votes.
Trump has been trying to use the mounting legal troubles to his political advantage, claiming without evidence on social media and at public events that the cases are being driven by Democratic prosecutors out to hurt his 2024 election campaign.
The indictments have helped his campaign raise millions of dollars from supporters, though he raised less after the second than the first, raising questions about whether subsequent charges will have the same impact.
A fundraising committee backing Trump’s candidacy began soliciting contributions just hours after the ex-president revealed he was the focus of the Justice Department’s January 6 investigation, casting it as “just another vicious act of Election Interference on behalf of the Deep State to try and stop the Silent Majority from having a voice in your own country”.
Attorney General Merrick Garland last year appointed Mr Smith, an international war crimes prosecutor who also led the Justice Department’s public corruption section, as special counsel to investigate efforts to undo the 2020 election and Trump’s retention of hundreds of classified documents at his Palm Beach, Florida, home, Mar-a-Lago.
Although Trump has derided him as “deranged” and suggested that he is politically motivated, Mr Smith’s past experience includes overseeing significant prosecutions against high-profile Democrats.
The Justice Department’s investigation into the efforts to overturn the 2020 election began well before Mr Smith’s appointment, proceeding alongside separate criminal probes into the January 6 rioters themselves.
More than 1,000 people have been charged in connection with the insurrection, including some with seditious conspiracy.