Donald Trump prosecution: what are the charges and what occurs straightaway?

Ex-president has been summoned to appear in court on charges linked to attempt to overturn 2020 election Donald Trump has been indicted on four charges:

Conspiracy to defraud the US
Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding
Obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding
Conspiracy against rights

You can read the full indictment on the US courts website – but here is a flavour: “The defendant lost the 2020 presidential election,” the 45-page document states. “Despite having lost, the defendant was determined to remain in power. So for more than two months following election day on November 3, 2020, the defendant spread lies … that he had actually won.”

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It alleges that Trump repeated false claims of election fraud, despite repeated warnings from multiple people in his circle, including senior leaders in the Department of Justice and senior attorneys who had been appointed by Trump, and the former vice-president Mike Pence, who told him “he had seen no evidence of outcome-determinative fraud”.

The indictment describes a conspiracy which, at its core, involves Trump and his co-conspirators allegedly trying to dupe Pence into falsely suggesting the outcome of the 2020 election had been in doubt.

To do so, prosecutors say Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to open “sham election fraud investigations” and repeatedly tried to co-opt Pence into rejecting electoral college votes for Joe Biden in an effort to stop his election win being certified.

When that failed, the indictment says, Trump tried to block the certification and exploited the January 6 Capitol attack by trying to push false claims of election fraud and to convince members of Congress to continue to delay the certification.

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Six other co-conspirators are listed but not named. They are thought to include Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who was Trump’s attorney after his presidential defeat. The six have not been charged at this time.

The background

The indictment stems from Trump’s refusal, in the weeks and months after his defeat by Joe Biden in November 2020, to accept he had lost, and from the violent attempt by a group of Trump’s supporters on 6 January 2021 to disrupt the congressional certification of Biden’s victory.

That event caused the deaths of seven people, a bipartisan Senate report found, and has already resulted in more than 1,000 arrests.

Trump is also facing other serious legal charges in New York and Florida over an alleged hush-money scheme during the 2016 election and his alleged mishandling of classified documents. Separately, he was found liable in May for sexual abuse and defamation against the writer E Jean Carroll – he has appealed. And he could face other charges in Georgia over alleged election code violations.

What does Trump say?

The former president hit back on Truth Social: “Why didn’t they bring this ridiculous case 2.5 years ago? They wanted it right in the middle of my campaign, that’s why!”

The Trump campaign earlier issued a statement calling the indictments “nothing more than the latest corrupt chapter in the continued pathetic attempt by the Biden Crime Family and their weaponized Department of Justice to interfere with the 2024 Presidential election, in which President Trump is the undisputed frontrunner”.

What do others say?

Chuck Schumer, the (Democrat) Senate majority leader, and Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader, issued a joint statement saying that the violence of 6 January 2021 “was the culmination of a months-long criminal plot led by the former president to defy democracy and overturn the will of the American people”.

There was no immediate comment from Biden, who is on holiday in Delaware; he went to the cinema with his wife, Jill, to watch Oppenheimer shortly after the indictment was announced.

What happens next?

Trump has been summoned to appear before a federal magistrate judge in Washington DC on Thursday.

Jack Smith, the special counsel, said he would seek a “speedy trial”, and stressed that the former president was entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Smith described the January 6 insurrection as “an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy” that was “fuelled by lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing the bedrock function of the US government admissions process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election”.

If convicted on all counts, Trump could, in theory, spend decades in prison, but federal penalties are rarely as high as the maximum possible sentence.

Trump’s latest indictments would not bar him from standing for office – and nor would a conviction. At any other time it would be inconceivable to imagine a candidate facing multiple indictments to win the Republican nomination, but Trump’s political career has never conformed to expectations.

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