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Explainer: What is Donald Trump indicted for this time?

By Alanna Durkin Richer | Associated Press

Donald Trump for years has promoted baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. In truth, Trump was the one who tried to steal the election, federal prosecutors said Tuesday in a sprawling indictment that paints the former president as desperate to cling to power.

The Justice Department indictment accuses Trump of conspiring with allies and concocting various schemes in a brazen attempt to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden as his legal challenges floundered in court.

The charges brought by special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution team are built around the words of Trump’s advisers, White House lawyers and others in his inner circle who repeatedly told him there was no fraud.

It’s the third time this year the early front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary has been charged in a criminal case. But it’s the first case to try to hold Trump responsible for his efforts to remain in power during the chaotic weeks between his election loss and the attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump has said he did nothing wrong, and has accused Smith and the Justice Department of trying to harm his 2024 campaign.

Here’s a look at the charges Trump faces and other key issues in the indictment:


Trump is charged with four counts: obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and conspiracy to prevent others from carrying out their constitutional rights.

In the obstruction charge — which carries up to 20 years in prison — the official proceeding refers to the Jan. 6, 2021 joint session of Congress at which electoral votes were to be counted in order to certify Biden as the official winner.

That charge has been brought against hundreds of the more than 1,000 people charged in the Jan. 6 riot, including members of the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys extremist groups.

More than 100 people have been convicted at trial or pleaded guilty to the offense. Jan. 6 defendants have challenged the use of the obstruction charge, though D.C.’s federal appeals court in April sided with the Justice Department in upholding the charge in the cases of three rioters.

Conspiracy to defraud the U.S., which is punishable by up to five years in prison, makes it a crime to conspire with another person else to carry out fraud against the government. The indictment alleges that Trump used “dishonesty, fraud and deceit to impair, obstruct and defeat” the counting and certifying of the election results.


Trump is also accused of violating a post-Civil War Reconstruction Era civil rights statute that makes it a crime to conspire to interfere with rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution, in this case: the right to vote and have one’s vote counted. It’s punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The provision was originally part of a set of laws passed in 1870 in response to violence and intimidation by members of the Klu Klux Klan aimed at keeping Black people from the polls.

But it has has been used over the years in a wide-range of election fraud cases, including to prosecute conspiracies to stuff ballot boxes or not count certain votes. The conspiracy doesn’t have to be successful, meaning the fraud doesn’t have to actually affect the election.

The Justice Department won a conviction on the charge earlier this year in the case of Douglass Mackey, a far-right propagandist from Florida who was accused of conspiring with other internet influencers to spread fraudulent messages to supporters of then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in an effort to suppress the vote in 2016.


The case was filed in Washington’s federal court, where Trump is expected to make his first appearance on Thursday.

For more than two years, judges in that courthouse — which sits within sight of the Capitol — have been hearing the cases of the hundreds of Trump supporters accused of participating in the Jan. 6 riot — many of whom have said they were deluded by the election lies pushed by Trump and his allies.

Trump has signaled that his defense may rest, at least in part, on the idea that he truly believed the election was stolen, saying in a recent social media post: “I have the right to protest an Election that I am fully convinced was Rigged and Stolen, just as the Democrats have done against me in 2016, and many others have done over the ages.”

But prosecutors have amassed a significant amount of evidence showing that Trump was repeatedly told he lost.

Trump “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,” the indictment says.

Trump is already scheduled to stand trial in March in the New York case stemming from hush-money payments made during the 2016 campaign and in May in the federal case in Florida stemming from classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

An updated indictment in the classified documents case that was unsealed last week added new charges involving accusations that Trump tried to get Mar-a-Lago surveillance footage deleted after it was requested by investigators.

Unlike in Florida, where Republicans have made steady inroads in recent years, Trump will likely face a challenging jury pool in overwhelmingly Democratic Washington D.C. Of the roughly 100 people who have gone to trial in the Jan. 6 attack, only two people have been cleared of all charges and those cases were decided by judges, not juries.

Source: Orange County Register

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