Special counsel Jack Smith said Tuesday that the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol was “fueled by lies” told by former President Donald Trump. The indictment of Trump on four new federal criminal charges, all related to the former president’s effort to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election, lays out some of those lies one by one.
Even in listing 21 lies, the 45-page indictment does not come close to capturing the entirety of Trump’s massive catalogue of false claims about the election. But the list is illustrative nonetheless – highlighting the breadth of election-related topics Trump was dishonest about, the large number of states his election dishonesty spanned, and, critically, his willingness to persist in privately and publicly making dishonest assertions even after they had been debunked to him directly.
Here is the list of 21.
1. The lie that fraud changed the outcome of the 2020 election, that Trump “had actually won,” and that the election was “stolen.” (Pages 1 and 40-41 of the indictment)
Trump’s claim of a stolen election whose winner was determined by massive fraud was (and continues to be) his overarching lie about the election. The indictment asserts that Trump knew as early as 2020 that his narrative was false – and had been told as such by numerous senior officials in his administration and allies outside the federal government – but persisted in deploying it anyway, including on January 6 itself.
2. The lie that fake pro-Trump Electoral College electors in seven states were legitimate electors. (Pages 5 and 26)
The indictment alleges that Trump and his alleged co-conspirators “organized” the phony slates of electors and then “caused” the slates to be transmitted to Vice President Mike Pence and other government officials to try to get them counted on January 6, the day Congress met to count the electoral votes.
3. The lie that the Justice Department had identified significant concerns that may have affected the outcome of the election. (Pages 6 and 27)
Attorney General William Barr and other top Justice Department officials had told Trump that his claims of major fraud had proved to be untrue. But the indictment alleges that Trump still sought to have the Justice Department “make knowingly false claims of election fraud to officials in the targeted states through a formal letter under the Acting Attorney General’s signature, thus giving the Defendant’s lies the backing of the federal government and attempting to improperly influence the targeted states to replace legitimate Biden electors with the Defendant’s.”
4. The lie that Pence had the power to reject Biden’s electoral votes. (Pages 6, 32-38)
Pence had repeatedly and correctly told Trump that he did not have the constitutional or legal right to send electoral votes back to the states as Trump wanted. The indictment notes that Trump nonetheless repeatedly declared that Pence could do so – first in private conversations and White House meetings, then in tweets on January 5 and January 6, then in Trump’s January 6 speech in Washington at a rally before the riot – in which Trump, angry at Pence, allegedly inserted the false claim into his prepared text even after advisors had managed to temporarily get it removed.
5. The lie that “the Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.” (Page 36)
The indictment alleges that the day before the riot, Trump “approved and caused” his campaign to issue a false statement saying Pence agreed with him about having the power to reject electoral votes – even though Trump knew, from a one-on-one meeting with Pence hours prior, that Pence continued to firmly disagree.
6. The lie that Georgia had thousands of ballots cast in the names of dead people. (Pages 8 and 16)
The indictment notes that Georgia’s top elections official – Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – a republican – explained to Trump in a phone call on January 2, 2021 that this claim was false, but that Trump repeated it in his January 6 rally speech anyway. Raffensperger said in the phone call and then in a January 6 letter to Congress that just two potential dead-voter cases had been discovered in the state; Raffensperger said in late 2021 that the total had been updated and stood at four.
7. The lie that Pennsylvania had 205,000 more votes than voters. (Pages 8 and 20)
The indictment notes that Trump’s acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue had both told him that this claim was false, but he kept making it anyway – including in the January 6 rally speech.
8. The lie that there had been a suspicious “dump” of votes in Detroit, Michigan. (Pages 9 and 17)
The indictment notes that Barr, the attorney general, told Trump on December 1, 2020 that this was false – as CNN and others had noted, supposedly nefarious “dumps” Trump kept talking about were merely ballots being counted and added to the public totals as normal – but that Trump still repeated the false claim in public remarks the next day. And Barr wasn’t the only one to try to dissuade Trump from this claim. The indictment also notes that Michigan’s Republican Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, had told Trump in an Oval Office meeting on November 20, 2020 that Trump had lost the state “not because of fraud” but because Trump had “underperformed with certain voter populations.”
9. The lie that Nevada had tens of thousands of double votes and other fraud. (Page 9)
The indictment notes that Nevada’s top elections official – Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, also a Republican – had publicly posted a “Facts vs. Myths” document explaining that Nevada judges had rejected such claims.
10. The lie that more than 30,000 non-citizens had voted in Arizona. (Pages 9 and 11)
The indictment notes that Trump put the number at “over 36,000” in his January 6 speech – even though, the indictment says, his own campaign manager “had explained to him that such claims were false” and Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican who had supported Trump in the election, “had issued a public statement that there was no evidence of substantial fraud in Arizona.”
11. The lie that voting machines in swing states had switched votes from Trump to Biden. (Page 9)
This is a reference to false conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems machines, which Trump kept repeating long after it was thoroughly debunked by his own administration’s election cybersecurity security arm and many others. The indictment says, “The Defendant’s Attorney General, Acting Attorney General, and Acting Deputy Attorney General all had explained to him that this was false, and numerous recounts and audits had confirmed the accuracy of voting machines.”
12. The lie that Dominion machines had been involved in “massive election fraud.” (Page 12)
The indictment notes that Trump, on Twitter, promoted a lawsuit filed by an alleged co-conspirator, whom CNN has identified as lawyer Sidney Powell, that alleged “massive election fraud” involving Dominion – even though, the indictment says, Trump privately acknowledged to advisors that the claims were “unsupported” and told them Powell sounded “crazy.”
13. The lie that “a substantial number of non-citizens, non-residents, and dead people had voted fraudulently in Arizona.” (Page 10)
The indictment alleges that Trump and an alleged co-conspirator, whom CNN has identified as former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, made these baseless claims on a November 22, 2020 phone call with Bowers; the indictment says Giuliani never provided evidence and eventually said, at a December 1, 2020 meeting with Bowers, “words to the effect of, ‘We don’t have the evidence, but we have lots of theories.”
14. The lie that Fulton County, Georgia elections workers had engaged in “ballot stuffing.” (Pages 13 and 14)
This is the long-debunked lie – which Trump has continued to repeat in 2023 – that a video had caught two elections workers in Atlanta breaking the law. The workers were simply doing their jobs, and, as the indictment notes, they were cleared of wrongdoing by state officials in 2020 – but Trump continued to make the claims even after Raffensperger and Justice Department officials directly and repeatedly told him they were unfounded.
15. The lie that thousands of out-of-state voters cast ballots in Georgia. (Page 16)
The indictment notes that Trump made this claim on his infamous January 2, 2021 call with Raffensperger, whose staff responded that the claim was inaccurate. An official in Raffensberger’s office explained to Trump that the voters in question had authentically moved back to Georgia and legitimately cast ballots.
16. The lie that Raffensperger “was unwilling, or unable,” to address Trump’s claims about a “‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters’, dead voters, and more.” (Page 16)
In fact, contrary to this Trump tweet the day after the call, Raffensperger and his staff had addressed and debunked all of these false Trump claims.
17. The lie that there was substantial fraud in Wisconsin and that the state had tens of thousands of unlawful votes. (Page 21)
False and false. But the indictment notes that Trump made the vague fraud claim in a tweet on December 21, 2020, after the state Supreme Court upheld Biden’s win, and repeated the more specific claim about tens of thousands of unlawful votes in the January 6 speech.
18. The lie that Wisconsin had more votes counted than it had actual voters. (Page 21)
This, like Trump’s similar claim about Pennsylvania, is not true. But the indictment alleges that Trump raised the claim in a December 27, 2020 conversation with acting attorney general Rosen and acting deputy attorney general Donoghue, who informed him that it was false.
19. The lie that the election was “corrupt.” (Page 28)
The indictment alleges that when acting attorney general Rosen told Trump on the December 27, 2020 call that the Justice Department couldn’t and wouldn’t change the outcome of the election, Trump responded, “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.” (Deputy attorney general Donoghue memorialized the reported Trump remark in his handwritten notes, which CNN reported on in 2021 and which were subsequently published by the House committee that investigated the Capitol riot.)
20. The lie that Trump won every state by hundreds of thousands of votes. (Page 34)
The indictment says that, at a January 4, 2021 meeting intended to convince Pence to unlawfully reject Biden’s electoral votes and send them back to swing-state legislatures, Pence took notes describing Trump as saying, “Bottom line-won every state by 100,000s of votes.” This was, obviously, false even if Trump was specifically talking about swing states won by Biden rather than every state in the nation.
21. The lie that Pennsylvania “want[s] to recertify.” (Page 38)
Trump made this false claim in his January 6 speech. In reality, some Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania had expressed a desire to at least delay the congressional affirmation of Biden’s victory – but the state’s Democratic governor and top elections official, who actually had election certification power in the state, had no desire to recertify Biden’s legitimate win.