By Jack Queen (Reuters) – Donald Trump was charged with four felonies over his efforts to undo his 2020 election loss to U.S. President Joe Biden. Here is a look at the federal charges and how Trump might defend himself.
CONSPIRACY TO DEFRAUD THE U.S.
This is a very broad law that covers attempts by one or more people to defraud the federal government by “any manner or for any purpose.” Prosecutors routinely use it in cases where they can construe harm to the federal government.
The indictment alleges that the government would have been a victim of fraud if Trump and at least six co-conspirators succeeded in overturning the election results on false pretenses. The co-conspirators do not necessarily need to have common knowledge of what each is doing and only need to be united by a general, common purpose.
Prosecutors will need to prove that Trump took at least one “overt act,” or clear step taken to advance a criminal scheme, legal experts said.
That could include a number of publicly reported actions Trump took after his loss, including calling Georgia’s secretary of state and asking him to “find” enough votes to deliver Trump a win.
OBSTRUCTION OF AN OFFICIAL PROCEEDING
Trump faces two counts for conspiring to obstruct and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding. This charge is similar to defrauding the U.S. but more narrowly tailored to discrete functions of government, in this case Congress’ certification of Biden’s win.
It will not be difficult for prosecutors to clear that hurdle because congressional certification of election results is plainly an official proceeding, experts said. Trump could argue that he genuinely believed the election was rigged.
But he would have to testify in order to do so, and taking the stand can be risky for criminal defendants because they must face questioning from prosecutors.
The indictment also contains evidence undercutting the notion that Trump was acting in good faith, including a call where he allegedly told then-Vice President Mike Pence that he was “too honest” for not going along with Trump’s plan to change the election results.
CONSPIRACY AGAINST RIGHTS
This law was originally passed in the aftermath of the Civil War to protect the rights of formerly enslaved people, including their right to vote.
The statute is broadly written and also covers hate crimes and police brutality. Prosecutors will need to prove Trump specifically intended to deprive voters of the right to a fair election.
This will hinge on evidence showing whether Trump knew his claims of fraud were false, or if he was earnestly contesting the election results.
Here, Trump’s assertion that he truly believed the election was stolen could be useful to his defense. But he would once again need to risk taking the stand to convince jurors he was acting in good faith, experts said.