Donald Trump has been indicted again, though likely not for the last time. Tuesday afternoon, federal prosecutors led by special counsel Jack Smith indicted Trump on four charges relating to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election: conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.
The first charge relates to efforts by Trump and six unnamed co-conspirators to “overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the federal government function by which those results are collected, counted, and certified.” That conspiracy included pressuring state officials in key states to “ignore the popular vote” and pretend Trump won; promoting slates of false electors in those states; attempting to use the “power and authority” of the Justice Department to steal the election in a number of ways, including through pressure on state legislatures and support for the fake electors scheme; pressuring Mike Pence to use his “ceremonial role” in Congress on Jan. 6 to block certification of President Joe Biden’s win; and, when all that failed, by “exploit[ing] the disruption” of the attack on the U.S. Capitol to pressure members of Congress to keep delaying the certification of the vote.
A key piece of that charge is showing that Trump knew he lost and that all of this was based on false claims. Much of the voluminous detail on that front is familiar to anyone who followed the House Jan. 6 committee, though the indictment adds new details, some of them drawn directly from Pence’s testimony and his “contemporaneous notes.” Pence tried to refuse a subpoena, but was compelled by a judge to testify, though things directly relating to his role as president of the Senate on Jan. 6 itself was exempted. New information includes Trump using a Christmas well-wishes call to pressure Pence to refuse to certify the election; a meeting in which Pence told Trump, “Even your own counsel is not saying I have that authority”; and Trump responding to Pence pushback by telling him “You’re too honest.” That last line is important because it directly suggests that Trump knew he himself wasn’t being honest.
The second charge relates to Trump’s efforts, along with his co-conspirators, to keep Congress from certifying Biden’s win. The third charge, then, is that Trump didn’t just conspire to obstruct that official proceeding, but that he did so.
The final charge, conspiracy against rights, comes under a law dating to the aftermath of the Civil War, when groups like the Ku Klux Klan used terror and violence to try to stop Black southerners from voting. Specifically, the indictment says, Trump conspired to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate one or more persons in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States—that is, the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted.”
In theory, conspiracy to defraud the government carries a five-year maximum prison sentence, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and obstructing an official proceeding could each be punishable by up to 20 years, and conspiracy against rights could mean up to 10 years. In practice, even a defendant who doesn’t get the excessive deference the legal system has repeatedly offered Trump would be unlikely to get anywhere near that.
Trump is slated to be arraigned in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Thursday at 4PM ET. Speaking of excessive deference, it is likely that he will once again be allowed to keep his passport and bypass other limits typically placed on federal defendants.
Trump’s co-conspirators have not been charged and they have not been named, although five of the six can be identified based on details in the indictment that line up with publicly known information. Co-conspirator one is Rudy Giuliani. Two is John Eastman. Three is Sidney Powell. Four is Jeffrey Clark. Five is Kenneth Chesebro. The identity of the sixth co-conspirator hasn’t yet been confirmed.
In addition to these four federal criminal charges, Trump faces 40 federal criminal charges brought by the same special counsel’s team relating to his hoarding of classified documents and obstruction of government efforts to get them back. In New York, he has been indicted for a criminal scheme of falsifying business records in his efforts to cover up hush money payments to women he had affairs with. And he is expected to be indicted in Fulton County, Georgia, in the coming weeks for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in that state specifically.
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