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Trump was indicted over his involvement in the January 6 Capitol riot and efforts to overturn the election results. Here’s what the 4 charges against him mean.

donald trumpFormer President Donald Trump.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

  • Former President Donald Trump was indicted on four charges in connection to the January 6 Capitol riot. 
  • He’s been charged with conspiracy to defraud the government, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. 
  • Here’s a breakdown of the charges and what they could mean for the former president. 

Former President Donald Trump was indicted Tuesday on four counts in connection to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

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

It’s the third criminal indictment and second federal indictment for the former commander-in-chief and arose from the special counsel Jack Smith’s sprawling investigation into the deadly siege.

Here’s a breakdown of the new criminal charges Trump is facing and what they mean.

Conspiracy to defraud the government

The general conspiracy statute is fairly broad, but the Supreme Court determined in two 20th-century cases that it prohibits “conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing or defeating” a lawful government function, and interfering with or obstructing the government “by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest.”

To secure a conviction on this charge, prosecutors would need to prove that Trump knew he lost the 2020 election and still tried to overturn the results.

When Congress’ January 6 select committee asked the Justice Department to prosecute Trump in connection to the Capitol riot, it included conspiracy to defraud the US as one of the four recommended charges.

“This was almost a certainty,” Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor in California told Insider, adding that it’s a “safe” charge that can also include several co-conspirators.

Indeed, the January 6 committee said in a court filing last year that it had evidence Trump and his allies “entered into an agreement” to defraud the US by interfering with Congress’ election-certification process, “disseminating false information about election fraud, and pressuring state officials to alter state election results and federal officials to assist in that effort.”

If convicted of this charge, Trump could face a maximum of 5 years in prison, Rahmani said.

Obstruction of an official proceeding 

This charge relates primarily to allegations that Trump tried to obstruct Congress’ election certification process by pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the electors from states that Biden won and substitute fake slates of pro-Trump electors in their place.

Obstruction of an official proceeding is among the most widely used charges federal prosecutors have brought against other defendants related to the Capitol riot. The January 6 committee also said last year that several judges “concluded that Congress’s proceeding to count the electoral votes on January 6th was an ‘official proceeding’ for purposes of this section, and each has refused to dismiss charges against defendants under that section.”

The maximum prison sentence if Trump is convicted of this charge is 20 years.

But Rahmani said that if Trump is convicted, he will likely never see that many years behind bars because prosecutors will “merge sentences … and take the most serious one.” In this case, it’s obstruction of an official proceeding. Plus, Rahmani said, the judge will follow sentencing guidelines versus handing down the max. 

He added that sentencing ranges are advisory and that if Trump gets convicted following a trial, he’ll likely be looking at a four- to five-year sentence. And if he strikes a plea deal, he could be sentenced to three to four years, Rahmani said.

Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding

Prosecutors used the same evidence laid out in the first conspiracy charge to make its case here. The conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding charge relates directly to the government’s accusation that Trump conspired to obstruct the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s November 2020 win. 

The charge carried a possible prison sentence of 20 years, The Washington Post reported.

Conspiracy against rights 

Trump was widely expected to be charged with conspiracy to defraud the US and obstruction of an official proceeding. But legal experts were surprised when it initially surfaced that Smith’s office was also considering charging Trump with conspiracy against rights.

The Reconstruction-era law was originally passed to stop members of the Ku Klux Klan from terrorizing formerly enslaved people trying to exercise their constitutional rights.

But it’s been applied more broadly in the modern day, and in Trump’s case, prosecutors want to use it in alleging that the former president tried to tamper with the 2020 election results in battleground states.

If convicted of this charge, Trump could face a fine or prison time of up to 10 years, Rahmani said.

Rahmani added that while the charge was less expected compared to the others, “Trump was allegedly conspiring to prevent peoples’ lawful votes from being counted with the fake elector scheme.”

“That’s why it makes sense,” because “what he did fits within the four corners of the statue,” Rahmani said.

The law states that if someone died as a result of the conspiracy, the defendant could face life in prison. A bipartisan Senate report found that at least seven people died in connection to the riot.

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