Former US president Donald Trump has been indicted over his efforts to upend the results of the 2020 US election. It is the most serious legal threat he has had to face so far and comes as he campaigns to return to the White House.
It is the third criminal indictment of the 77-year-old Trump since March and charges him with three counts of conspiracy and one count of obstruction.
Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is already scheduled to go on trial in Florida in May of next year for allegedly mishandling top secret government documents.
The new charges, two of which carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison, raise the prospect of Trump being embroiled in more legal proceedings at the height of what is expected to be a divisive presidential campaign.
The indictment brought by special counsel Jack Smith accuses Trump of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding – the 6 January, 2021 joint session of Congress held to certify Democrat Joe Biden's election victory.
Trump is also accused in the 45-page indictment of seeking to disenfranchise American voters with his false claims that he won the November 2020 presidential election.
"Shortly after election day – November 3, 2020 - the Defendant launched his criminal scheme," the indictment, handed down by a grand jury in Washington," claimed on Tuesday.
"The purpose of the conspiracy was to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud," it said.
Smith, a former war crimes prosecutor at the Hague, said the 6 January attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters was "an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy."
"It was fueled by lies," Smith told reporters in brief remarks.
"Lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the US government – the nation's process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election."
Part of that plan, the indictment alleges, was to have then-vice president Mike Pence use his role as presiding officer over the 6 January joint session to throw out several states' votes.
Pence ultimately refused, issuing a public statement saying that he did not believe the Constitution allowed him that power.
As Trump's supporters later stormed the US Capitol, where Pence was in hiding, Trump tweeted that his vice president "didn't have the courage to do what should have been done."
Hopes for 'speedy' trial
The indictment mentions six co-conspirators but none are identified and Trump, who is to be arraigned on Thursday, is the only named defendant.
The case is expected to be heard by US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, an appointee of former Democratic president Barack Obama.
Smith said he is seeking a "speedy trial".
Trump lashed out at the special counsel, calling him "deranged" and accusing him of issuing "yet another Fake Indictment" to "interfere with the presidential election."
"Why didn't they do this 2.5 years ago?" Trump said in a post on his Truth Social platform. "Why did they wait so long?
"Because they wanted to put it right in the middle of my campaign," he said. "Prosecutorial misconduct!"
Witch hunt claims
Trump has repeatedly attacked the investigation as a political "witch hunt" by the Department of Justice.
Besides the classified documents charges, the former president also faces a criminal trial in New York for allegedly paying election-eve hush money to a porn star.
Georgia prosecutors are also looking into whether Trump illegally attempted to overturn the 2020 election outcome in the southern state.
As president, Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for seeking political dirt on Biden from Ukraine and over the events of January 6 but he was acquitted by the Senate both times.
Pence, who is competing against Trump in the Republican primary, said on Twitter – now rebranded as X – that Tuesday's indictment "serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States."