Trump legal risks deepen with charges of plot to reverse 2020 election

By Sarah N. Lynch and Jacqueline Thomsen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. efforts to hold Donald Trump criminally responsible in a plot to overturn the 2020 election were gaining steam, as the former president prepared to face federal charges in a Washington courtroom on Thursday while Georgia state prosecutors looked poised to issue their own charges in coming weeks.

Trump – the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – was indicted on Tuesday on four counts, including conspiring to defraud the U.S., obstructing an official proceeding and conspiring to deprive voters of their right to fair elections.

In the 45-page indictment filed by Special Counsel Jack Smith, prosecutors described a sprawling, multistate conspiracy built upon Trump’s repeated false claims that Democrat Joe Biden’s victory had been marred by widespread fraud.

A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service said Trump, 77, was expected to be fingerprinted and asked to provide such basic information as his date of birth and Social Security number, when he appears voluntarily on a court summons on Thursday.

According to the indictment, Trump ignored advisers who told him the election was not fraudulent and helped organize fake slates of electors to try to capture electoral votes in states he had lost.

Trump and his allies knowingly pushed those lies as part of a campaign to pressure state and federal officials to throw out the election results, prosecutors said, culminating in a mob of Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed bid to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.

“Despite having lost, the defendant was determined to remain in power,” the indictment said.

The Trump campaign issued a statement accusing the Biden administration of targeting him for political gain.

“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,” the campaign said.

Smith, the former chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, was appointed special counsel by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, empowered to handle a politically sensitive investigation while insulating the Justice Department from allegations of bias.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who confounded attempts by Trump to remain in power, told then-President Trump there was no constitutional basis for his having such authority, and Trump responded: “You’re too honest,” according to the indictment.

Trump, the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges, has been indicted on three separate occasions this year. In June, Smith’s office charged him in a separate case with illegally retaining classified documents after leaving the White House and obstructing efforts to retrieve them.

Earlier this year, the Manhattan district attorney’s office brought charges that he falsified business records to hide hush money payments to a porn star who claimed to have had an affair with Trump years ago.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in both cases and has portrayed those investigations, as well as the election probes, as part of a coordinated “witch hunt.”

In Georgia, the district attorney in Atlanta, Fani Willis, has been investigating whether Trump and his associates illegally interfered with that state’s election for more than two years. Willis, an elected Democrat, has signaled she intends to bring charges in that probe within the next three weeks.

Despite the steady drumbeat of scandal, Trump maintains a wide lead over a field of Republican rivals in the November 2024 presidential race, according to public opinion polls.

Strategists said that while the indictments could help Trump solidify support among Republican voters, who view the charges as bogus, they could prove more damaging among independent voters in the general election against Biden.

Many Republican officials, unwilling to anger Trump’s substantial base of supporters, attacked Biden instead, claiming that the latest charges were politically motivated.

Trump’s chief rival for the Republican nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, declined to address the specifics in the indictment but vowed to end “the weaponization of the federal government.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jacqueline Thomsen, writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone, Michael Perry and Howard Goller)