Federal prosecutors on Tuesday accused former president Donald Trump of a long pattern of lying about elections and encouraging violence, saying he “sent” supporters to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to criminally block the election results.
In a new court filing, prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith went further than they did in their August indictment in attempting to tie Trump to the riot. They said that at Trump’s criminal trial in Washington, currently scheduled for early March, they intend to introduce evidence of his acts before the November 2020 presidential election, and his subsequent alleged threats, to establish his motive, intent and preparation for attempting to subvert Joe Biden’s legitimate election victory.
“Evidence of the defendant’s post-conspiracy embrace of particularly violent and notorious rioters is admissible to establish the defendant’s motive and intent on January 6 — that he sent supporters, including groups like the Proud Boys, whom he knew were angry, and whom he now calls ‘patriots,’ to the Capitol to achieve the criminal objective of obstructing the congressional certification,” prosecutors alleged in a nine-page filing.
“At trial, the Government will introduce evidence of this conduct — including the defendant’s public endorsement and encouragement of violence — and further will elicit testimony from witnesses about the threats and harassment they received after the defendant targeted them in relation to the 2020 election.”
In a written statement, Trump spokesman Steven Cheung accused Smith of trying to interfere in next year’s presidential election, in which Trump is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination. Even though it is not unusual for prosecutors to make public new evidence and allegations as a trial approaches, Cheung criticized the government for “trying to include claims that weren’t anywhere to be found” in the August indictment.
Trump “will not be deterred and will continue speaking truth to corrupt, weaponized power and law enforcement,” Cheung said.
Trump has pleaded not guilty to the four charges he faces in D.C. He is accused of plotting to defraud the federal election process, obstructing Congress’s certification of the vote in the 2021 Capitol attack and depriving Americans of their civil right to have their votes counted.
The former president separately faces a federal indictment in Florida over his alleged retention and mishandling of classified documents after leaving the White House and alleged obstruction of government efforts to get them back; a state trial in Georgia on charges of trying to obstruct that state’s election results; and a New York state business fraud prosecution accusing Trump of covering up a hush money payment made during his 2016 election campaign. He has denied all wrongdoing.
Trial courts generally don’t let prosecutors introduce evidence of crimes that a defendant has not been charged with. But judges make exceptions for evidence that the government can show is closely tied to the alleged offense or a person’s intent, motive and knowledge. Trump’s attorneys can respond to the prosecutors’ filing by arguing to exclude such evidence as inflammatory or irrelevant.
In their notice to the court, parts of which were redacted under court rules to prevent the public release of sensitive investigation information, prosecutors argued that Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud and vote-rigging have been part of his political playbook since before his 2016 election. Trump deployed false accusations to dismiss past defeats and undermine future ones, they said, laying the “foundation” for his criminal plan to unlawfully retain power in 2020.
As early as November 2012, the filing said, Trump baselessly tweeted that voting machines had switched votes from that year’s Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, to President Barack Obama. During the 2016 presidential nominating contests, Trump repeatedly and falsely claimed there was “large scale fraud,” senior assistant special counsels Molly Gaston and Thomas Windom wrote.
After losing the Iowa caucuses that February, Trump said on Twitter, the social media platform now called X, that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) “didn’t win Iowa, he illegally stole it.” If Trump wasn’t the clear winner by the GOP convention in July, he told CNN, “I think you’d have riots.”
Prosecutors noted that in August 2016, Trump said his race against the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, would be “rigged,” and he refused to say in the final presidential debate whether he would accept the election’s result. Prosecutors said he allegedly pursued the same strategy in 2020 when he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, saying at a Sept. 23 news conference: “There won’t be a transfer, frankly; there’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control.”
In another part of the filing, prosecutors accused Trump and his campaign of retaliating against those who rejected his election lies.
On Election Day, they said, when an unnamed Trump “Campaign Employee” learned that vote counting in Detroit was trending against the president, the employee sent messages to a campaign lawyer there that encouraged “rioting and other methods of obstruction.” The next passage in the indictment is redacted, apparently to protect investigative details.
Prosecutors also said they would show that on Nov. 4, 2020, as Biden began to take the lead, “a large number of untrained individuals flooded” the TCF Center in Detroit, where votes were being counted, making “illegitimate and aggressive challenges.” Trump made repeated false claims regarding what was happening, while “in truth his agent was seeking to cause a riot to disrupt the count,” prosecutors claimed.
In the other example that also included a redacted passage, prosecutors cited an effort by Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani — identified only as Co-Conspirator 1 in court filings — to retaliate against an unnamed former Republican National Committee chief counsel who publicly refuted Trump’s false claims of election fraud. News accounts have identified the RNC counsel as Justin Riemer, who called Trump’s legal attempts to overturn the 2020 election results a “joke” that was “misleading millions of people.”
In addition, prosecutors said they would introduce evidence of Trump’s attacks against two unnamed Georgia election workers despite being on notice that his claims about them were false and had subjected them to “vile, racist, and violent threats and harassment,” including death threats. Prosecutors did not name the workers but cited Trump’s January 2023 tweets about election temporary workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss; a federal judge, ruling in their 2021 lawsuit, found this summer that they were defamed by Giuliani.
Several co-defendants charged with Trump in his state election fraud case in Fulton County, Ga., are accused of harassing Freeman after Giuliani and others falsely accused her and Moss of counting phony ballots.
Prosecutors said they are seeking to show that Trump and his unindicted co-conspirators planned to “silence” those who spoke out against Trump’s false election claims, along with evidence of his “full knowledge” that his repeated choice to verbally attack public officials such as former vice president Mike Pence could “foreseeably lead to threats, harassment, and violence.”
In the filing, prosecutors also pointed to an interview Trump gave to NBC’s “Meet the Press” in September that, they argued, showed he has embraced the violence of the Capitol attack. In that interview, Trump said members of the Proud Boys — whose leaders were convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the riot — were “treated horribly.”
Trump’s defense had sought to purge references to the attack from his indictment, arguing that he is not charged with criminal incitement. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan rejected that request, saying jurors would not be shown the indictment.
And in their filing, prosecutors argued that Trump’s financial support for, celebration of and offers to pardon some of the most violent and notorious actors in the riot evinced his “encouragement of violence.”
“Perhaps most importantly,” prosecutors concluded, Trump’s actions showed “that these individuals acted as he directed them to act” and that the violent disruption of Congress “is exactly what the defendant intended on January 6.”