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Donald Trump indictment: What are the charges Trump is facing over 2020 election probe?

A sweeping federal indictment outlines alleged attempts to fraudulently subvert the 2020 election

Alex Woodward
Thursday 03 August 2023 11:43 BST
Special Counsel Jack Smith announces indictment against Donald Trump in Jan 6 probe

A four-count federal indictment against Donald Trump accuses the former president of conspiring with his allies to overturn the results of a democratic election and deprive Americans of their constitutional rights in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.

Mr Trump knew he had lost the election but continued to pursue efforts to remain in power, including the so-called alternate elector scheme to fraudulently certify the results submitted to Congress, according to federal prosecutors.

A detailed, 45-page federal indictment on 1 August outlines three criminal conspiracies and Mr Trump’s alleged obstruction of the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, a multi-state scheme built on a legacy of lies and conspiracy theories to undermine the democratic process.

The indictment also lists six unnamed co-conspirators who are likely to include Trump-connected attorneys and former administration officials and advisers.

Charges include conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.

“Despite having lost, [Mr Trump] was determined to remain in power,” according to the indictment. “These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false. In fact, the Defendant was notified repeatedly that his claims were untrue – often by the people on whom he relied for candid advice on important matters, and who were best positioned to know the facts – and he deliberately disregarded the truth.”

Obstruction of an official proceeding

The crime of obstruction of an official proceeding has already been brought against hundreds of people in connection with the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021.

The House select committee and a federal judge who was involved in cases stemming from its inquiry previously argued that there is evidence that Mr Trump sought to corruptly obstruct the certification of electoral college votes in Congress – a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison, if convicted.

Then-President Trump exploited the violence at the Capitol, fuelled by his ongoing and baseless narrative that the election was “stolen” from him, by calling on lawmakers to pause the certification of the election results, according to the indictment.

Conspiracy to defraud the United States

That same federal judge and the House select committee also have argued that there is evidence to convict Mr Trump on a charge of conspiracy to defraud the government, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Mr Trump’s efforts through his legal team and his inner circle to block the certification of Mr Biden’s victory in states that he lost, while falsely claiming widespread voter fraud and manipulation had stolen the election from him, form the basis for that charge in the federal indictment against him.

The former president also is charged under this statute in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, where he is accused of using a lawyer to lie to the US Department of Justice.

“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” California Judge David O Carter wrote in a ruling from a civil lawsuit involving John Eastman, who was central to the so-called “alternate” electors scheme.

Mr Trump, ignoring the nation’s history of the peaceful transition of power, “vigorously campaigned for the vice president to single-handedly determine the results of the 2020 election,” the judge wrote.

The indictment outlines Mr Trump’s efforts to push election officials in battleground states that he lost – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – to subvert election outcomes, then advance a bogus “alternate” elector scheme to transmit false slates of electors to Congress.

On 18 July, Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel charged 16 “fake” electors in that state, marking the first criminal charges brought against so-called “alternate” electors who sought to overturn 2020 results.

Mr Trump then leveraged the Justice Department to promote the scheme and pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to fraudulently alter the election’s outcome by rejecting the results on January 6, according to the indictment.

Conspiracy against rights

A crime of conspiracy against rights invokes Section 241 of Title 18 of US Code, a law that dates back to bedrock civil rights protections in the Reconstruction era in the aftermath of the Civil War. It carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

It was among criminal codes under the Enforcement Acts, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Acts, designed to protect Americans’ civil rights enshrined under then-newly enacted 13th, 14th and 15th amendments – allowing the federal government to protect the rights of enfranchised Black people to vote, hold office, serve on juries and receive equal protection under the law.

Section 241 criminalises conspiracies to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person” from exercising such rights. But it does not require a conspiracy to be successful to prosecute. Prosecutors also don’t have to prove intentional racist discrimination.

“The Defendant has a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-derivative fraud during the election and that he had won,” according to the indictment.

Mr Trump was “entitled to formally challenge the results of the election” through lawful and appropriate means, such as by seeking recounts or audits of the popular vote in states or filing lawsuits challenging ballots, the document states.

“Indeed, in many cases, [Mr Trump] did pursue these methods of contesting election results” – all of which were “uniformly unsuccessful,” prosecutors wrote.

But “each of these conspiracies – built on the widespread mistrust [Mr Trump] was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud – targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government,” according to the indictment.

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