Jack Smith made only his second televised appearance as special counsel on Tuesday to explain his decision to charge former President Donald J. Trump with leading a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.
He took no questions and urged viewers to read the 45-page indictment in its entirety.
The indictment of the former president for trying to subvert democracy — an episode that has no precedent in American history — was issued by a federal grand jury in Washington and unsealed shortly before Mr. Smith gave his statement.
Mr. Trump has been charged with four crimes, including conspiracies to defraud the United States and to obstruct an official proceeding.
Here are four takeaways:
The indictment portrays an attack on American democracy.
Mr. Smith framed his case against Mr. Trump as one that cuts to a core function of democracy: the peaceful transfer of power.
By underscoring this theme, which he also laid out in the indictment, Mr. Smith cast his effort as not just an effort to hold Mr. Trump accountable but also to defend the very core of democracy.
Mr. Smith said the former president’s efforts to overturn the election went well beyond his First Amendment right to make claims about voter fraud. The indictment details Mr. Trump’s efforts to use the machinery of government — including his own Justice Department — to help him cling to power.
Trump was placed at the center of the conspiracy.
Mr. Smith puts Mr. Trump at the heart of three overlapping conspiracies: a conspiracy to “defraud the United States” in his efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election; a conspiracy to “corruptly obstruct” the counting and certification of election results on Jan. 6; and a conspiracy to disenfranchise American voters by trying to override legitimate votes.
These overlapping conspiracies culminated on Jan. 6, 2021, when the so-called fake electors, the pressure on then-Vice President Mike Pence and the riot at the Capitol all converged to obstruct Congress’s function in ratifying the Electoral College outcome.
Mr. Smith argued in the indictment that Mr. Trump knew his claims about a stolen election were false. He cited a litany of episodes in which campaign advisers, White House officials, top Justice Department lawyers, speakers of statehouses and election administrators all told Mr. Trump his claims about “outcome-determinative fraud” in the election were false. Mr. Trump nonetheless kept repeating them.
Establishing that Mr. Trump knew he was lying could be important to convincing a jury to convict him. A lawyer for Mr. Trump has already signaled that his defense could rest in part on showing that he truly believed he had been cheated out of re-election.
Trump didn’t do it alone.
The indictment lists six co-conspirators, without naming or indicting them.
Based on the descriptions provided of the co-conspirators, they match the profiles of a crew of outside lawyers and advisers that Mr. Trump turned to after his campaign and White House lawyers failed to turn up credible evidence of fraud and had lost dozens of cases to challenge the election results in swing states.
After many of his core advisers told him his claims of fraud weren’t bearing out, Mr. Trump turned to lawyers who were willing to argue ever more outlandish conspiracy theories and to devise edge-of-the-envelope legal theories to keep him in power.
These advisers included Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York; the constitutional lawyer John Eastman, who came up with the scheme to pressure Mr. Pence to block the certification of election results on Jan. 6; and Sidney Powell, the lawyer who pushed the theory that foreign nations had hacked into voting machines and flipped votes to Joseph R. Biden Jr. Even Mr. Trump told advisers at the time that Ms. Powell’s theories sounded “crazy,” but he kept repeating them in public.
It’s unclear whether any or all of these co-conspirators will be indicted or whether they now have a period in which there’s an opportunity for them to decide to cooperate with prosecutors.
Indictments have only strengthened Trump’s hold on the Republican Party.
Mr. Trump may be on trial next year in three or four separate criminal cases — and there’s no telling what effect that might have on his general election prospects if he’s the Republican nominee. But in the short term, the indictments so far appear to have had nothing but political upside for the former president.
All evidence leads to a fact that would have been unbelievable in the pre-2015 Republican Party: In part by allowing him to claim that he is the victim of politicized prosecution by the Biden administration and liberal foes in New York and Georgia, the criminal investigations have helped consolidate Mr. Trump’s position as his party’s overwhelming front-runner in the presidential primaries.
Tuesday’s was Mr. Trump’s third indictment since early April. In the four months since his first indictment in New York, Mr. Trump has gained nearly 10 percentage points in national polling averages. During that same period, his closest rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, has seen his support collapse to the point where he now lags Mr. Trump nationally by more than 30 percentage points and is far behind in all the early voting states.
To understand the depths of frustration that Mr. Trump’s presidential rivals are wallowing in as they helplessly watch a Republican electorate in thrall to the former president, consider a single data point from this week’s New York Times/Siena College poll.
“In a head-to-head contest with Mr. DeSantis,” The Times wrote, “Mr. Trump still received 22 percent among voters who believe he has committed serious federal crimes — a greater share than the 17 percent that Mr. DeSantis earned from the entire G.O.P. electorate.”
If Mr. Trump does well among Republican voters who already think he’s a criminal, what hope do his G.O.P. opponents have of exploiting this latest indictment?