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US prosecutors have charged Donald Trump in connection with attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, the second federal indictment brought against the former president in as many months.

Trump was charged with four criminal counts including conspiracy to defraud the US, to obstruct an official proceeding and to threaten individual rights, according to an indictment filed in federal court in Washington on Tuesday.

The Department of Justice’s indictment stems from a probe led by special counsel Jack Smith into alleged meddling in the results of the 2020 election and attempts to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. The probe has focused on the actions of Trump, as well as his allies and supporters, in the lead-up to the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

The January 6 attack was “an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy”, Smith said in a brief statement on Tuesday. “It was fuelled by lies. 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.” He added that the DoJ would seek a speedy trial.

Despite losing the 2020 election, Trump “was determined to remain in power”, the DoJ said in the indictment, spreading lies about his supposed victory for more than two months after the vote.

“These claims were false, and the defendant knew that they were false,” the indictment said. Nevertheless, Trump “repeated and widely disseminated them anyway — to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election”, the filing said. 

In a statement, the Trump campaign said the indictment was part of a “continued pathetic attempt” by Biden and the justice department to “interfere” with the 2024 election.

“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, adding: “President Trump has always followed the law and the constitution, with advice from many highly accomplished attorneys.”

Senior Democrats welcomed Trump’s latest indictment, saying it would deliver some accountability. “This indictment is the most serious and most consequential thus far and will stand as a stark reminder to generations of Americans that no one, including a president of the United States, is above the law,” said Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrats in Congress, in a statement.

But Republicans, including Trump’s 2024 rivals, refrained from criticising him. “As President, I will end the weaponization of government, replace the FBI Director, and ensure a single standard of justice for all Americans,” Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, wrote in a tweet, adding that he had not read the indictment.

According to the indictment, six co-conspirators joined Trump’s “criminal efforts” to overturn the results of the 2020 polls. The unnamed individuals include attorneys, a DoJ official and a political consultant.

The DoJ said Trump and his co-conspirators allegedly arranged for fake representatives from seven states, including Pennsylvania and Georgia, to cast votes in the electoral college. Some of those fake electors were allegedly “tricked” into participating by being told their votes would only be used if lawsuits brought by Trump in their state were successful. These challenges never materialised, according to the indictment.

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Trump and his accomplices were also accused of attempting to use the DoJ to run “sham election crime investigations” and enlist then vice-president Mike Pence to change the outcome of the vote, according to the indictment.

But Pence refused, saying he lacked the legal authority, prompting Trump to reply: “You’re too honest,” according to the indictment.

Trump already faces federal criminal charges over the handling of classified documents, and state charges over alleged hush money payments made in the run-up to the 2016 election. He is due to make an initial appearance in the latest case on August 3.

The DoJ’s January 6 case is widely seen as one of the most serious legal challenges facing Trump, who is fighting multiple criminal cases.

It is the second set of charges brought by Smith, who was appointed by US attorney-general Merrick Garland to oversee probes involving the ex-president.

Trump in June was indicted on numerous criminal counts including conspiracy to obstruct justice, concealing documents in a federal investigation and making false statements. Trump pleaded not guilty in what was the first federal criminal case against a former US president.

Trump, the frontrunner in the race to become the Republican presidential candidate in 2024, has vowed to move ahead with his campaign despite mounting legal risks.

A further legal hurdle looms in the state of Georgia, where a special grand jury has been investigating alleged interference by the ex-president and others in the 2020 polls. If Fani Willis, district attorney for Fulton County, decides to bring charges in this separate case, they are widely expected to materialise later in the summer.

The ex-president in April pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in a case brought by the Manhattan district attorney. Trump was accused of masterminding a scheme to quash damaging stories threatening his presidential candidacy in 2016, which included a payment to an adult film actress in exchange for her silence.

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