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The charges facing Trump in the Jan. 6 investigation, explained

Special counsel Jack Smith speaks about an indictment of former President Donald Trump on Tuesday at a Department of Justice office in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin
Special counsel Jack Smith speaks about an indictment of former President Donald Trump on Tuesday at a Department of Justice office in Washington.

Updated August 2, 2023 at 12:37 PM ET

The criminal charges against former President Donald Trump related to efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election are some of the most serious allegations facing him, one law professor told NPR.

The indictment is "damning" and represents real "legal jeopardy" for him, said University of Richmond Law Professor Carl Tobias.

The allegations that Trump interfered in the 2020 election "cut to the heart of democracy," Tobias said.

He added, "This indictment shows how broad and deep the conspiracy was."

Trump is currently facing dozens of criminal charges in two other cases. One in Florida is based on his alleged withholding of classified documents, and a second in New York is over the accounting of hush money payments made in 2016.

Here's a summary of the charges Trump is facing in Washington, D.C., for attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election:

  • one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States applies to Trump's repeated and widespread efforts to spread false claims about the November 2020 election while knowing they were not true and for allegedly attempting to illegally discount legitimate votes all with the goal of overturning the 2020 election, prosecutors claim in the indictment.
  • one count of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding was brought due to the alleged organized planning by Trump and his allies to disrupt the electoral vote's certification in January 2021.
  • one count of obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding is tied to Trump and his co-conspirators' alleged efforts after the November 2020 election until Jan. 7, 2021, to block the official certification proceeding in Congress.
  • one count of conspiracy against rights refers to Trump and his co-conspirators alleged attempts to "oppress, threaten and intimidate" people in their right to vote in an election.
  • Read the full indictment below.

    Trump is facing a Civil War-era charge

    The charge of "conspiracy against rights" goes back to the Civil War era.

    It was passed after the Civil Waras a way to stop members of the Ku Klux Klan and other similar organizations from intimidating, harassing and outright terrorizing Black voters especially in the South.

    This law was part of the Enforcement Act, passed between 1868 and 1870, and "served as the basis for federal activism in prosecuting corruption of the franchise until most of them were repealed in the 1890s," according to the Justice Department.

    "Conspiracy against rights" is one surviving piece of the Enforcement Act.

    Tobias noted that prosecutors used this charge especially during the Civil Rights era to prosecute those who intimidated and terrorized Black voters at that time as well.

    In this case, prosecutors claim Trump and his allies conspired to stop people from exercising "the right to vote, and to have one's vote counted."

    How does this compare to Trump's other cases?

    This case involves more people — at least six unnamed co-conspirators are listed by prosecutors as part of the alleged conspiracy — and is widespread geographically compared to the case brought so far in New York and Florida, Tobias noted.

    "This classified documents case is more contained and it doesn't actually impact the entire country," he said.

    Prosecutors list alleged efforts by Trump and his allies to interfere with election proceedings in the U.S. and by pressuring officials in several states to overturn the results.

    In this case, Trump is also facing a serious Washington, D.C., federal judge with years of experience, Tobias said. The case has been assigned to Judge Tanya S. Chutkan.

    According to The Associated Press, Chutkan stood out for her tough punishment for Jan. 6 rioters. In at least seven cases examined by the AP, Chutkan imposed harsher penalties than what federal prosecutors sought for those rioters.

    The AP wrote, "Chutkan, a former assistant public defender who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, has consistently taken the hardest line against Jan. 6 defendants of any judge serving on Washington's federal trial court, which is handling the more than 800 cases brought so far in the largest prosecution in Justice Department history."

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    Jaclyn Diaz
    Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.