Explainer-What charges could Trump face for trying to undo the 2020 election?

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol has tried in hearings this month to build a case that could challenge then-President Donald Trump’s attempts to reverse his 2020 election defeat. amounted to illegal conduct.

Trump said in a statement dated June 14 that the commission was “lying to the nation” and conducting a “mock investigation.” What charges can prosecutors bring against Trump and how can he defend himself?

Here are some ideas now being floated:

CONNECT AN OFFICIAL PROCEDURE

In a March 2 lawsuit, the committee described Trump’s efforts to convince then-Vice President Mike Pence to either reject the voter rolls for Joe Biden, who won the election, or to cancel the count of those votes by Congress. to set.

The president’s efforts likely violate a federal law that makes it illegal to “corrupt” or attempt to “corrupt” an official proceeding, said Andrew Carter, the California federal judge overseeing the case.

“The pressure on Pence alone is enough” for prosecutors to prove Trump obstructed proceedings, said Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former federal prosecutor.

CONSPIRACY TO AMOUNT THE UNITED STATES

The commission filed the court as part of its effort to force Trump adviser John Eastman to hand over documents.

The filing said it was likely Trump and others colluded to defraud the United States, criminalizing any attempt by two or more people to interfere with government functions “by fraud, ruse or deceit.”

In addition to Trump’s efforts to pressure Pence, the committee cited his efforts to convince state election officials, the public and members of Congress that the 2020 election had been stolen, though several of his allies told him there was no evidence of fraud.

TRUMP’S DEFENSE

Trump has repeatedly denied doing anything illegal in connection with the events of January 6.

If the Justice Department files charges, the biggest challenge for prosecutors will be to prove Trump acted with corrupt intent, experts say.

Trump could argue that he genuinely believed he was winning the election and that his well-documented efforts to pressure Pence and state election officials were not intended to obstruct Congress or defraud the United States, but to protect the integrity of the election. to protect.

“It’s not about whether a reasonable person would believe it, it’s this person’s intent, whether this person knew,” said Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “It is like an escape hatch for the naive and the misguided.”

Trump spokesmen did not respond to a request for comment.

DOES THIS MEAN ALL THAT TRUMP WILL BE CRIMINICALLY CHARGE?

No. Neither Carter nor the commission can charge Trump with federal crimes. That decision must be made by the Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The department is conducting its own extensive investigation into the events of January 6, but has not indicated whether it plans to indict Trump, a decision that could have huge political implications as Trump considers another candidate for president in 2024. . The department did not respond to a request for comment.

ARE OTHER COSTS POSSIBLE?

Though not named in the commission’s file, experts said there may be evidence to prove Trump committed wire fraud or inflammatory conspiracy.

Democrats said at a hearing last week that Republican Trump has raised some $250 million from supporters to further fraudulent claims in court that he won the election but sent much of the money elsewhere. This raises the possibility that he could be charged with wire fraud, which prohibits obtaining money on “false or fraudulent pretenses,” legal experts said.

“Did he know and plan that the money would not really be spent on an election defense fund, but for other purposes?” said Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. “It is very likely that the answer is yes.”

Prosecutors have charged more than a dozen members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups, who were among the thousands of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, with seditious conspiracy, a rarely used statute that makes it illegal to enter the Capitol. to overthrow. the US government by force.

It would be a challenge for prosecutors to tie Trump to the physical violence used by some supporters, McQuade said.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)

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