Explainer-What charges could Trump face over efforts to overturn the 2020 election?
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol has been trying in hearings this month to build a case that then-President Donald Trump's efforts to ameliorate his election defeat by 2020 constituted illegal conduct.
Trump said in a June 14 statement that the committee was "lying to the nation" and conducting a "sham investigation." What charges could prosecutors bring against Trump and how could he defend himself?
Here are some ideas that are being circulated right now:
OBSTACLE OF AN OFFICIAL PROCESS
In a March 2 court filing, the committee detailed Trump's efforts to persuade then-Vice President Mike Pence to either reject electoral lists for Joe Biden, who won the election, or to delay a count of those votes by Congress.
The president's efforts likely violate a federal law that makes it illegal to "corrupt" or attempt to obstruct an official process, said Andrew Carter, the California federal judge overseeing the case.
"Just putting pressure on Pence is enough" for prosecutors to prove Trump obstructed the process, said Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former federal prosecutor.
CONSPIRACY TO FRAUD UNITED STATES
The committee filed the court motion to compel Trump adviser John Eastman to turn over documents.
The filing said it was likely that Trump and others were conspiring to defraud the United States, criminalizing any effort by two or more people to disrupt government functions "by deception, subterfuge, or subterfuge."
In addition to Trump's efforts to pressure Pence, the committee cited his attempts to convince state election officials, the public and members of Congress that the 2020 election was stolen, despite several of his allies telling him there was no evidence of fraud .
Trump has repeatedly denied doing anything illegal in connection with the January 6 events.
If the Justice Department files charges, prosecutors' biggest challenge will be proving Trump acted with corrupt intent, experts said.
Trump could argue that he genuinely believed he won the election and that his well-documented efforts to pressure Pence and state election officials were not intended to obstruct Congress or betray the United States, but integrity of choice to protect.
"It's not a question of whether a reasonable person would believe it, but whether that person intended it, whether that person knew it," said Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston. "It's like an escape hatch for the naïve and blinded."
Trump spokesmen did not respond to a request for comment.
Does all this mean that Trump will be prosecuted?
no Neither Carter nor the committee can accuse Trump of federal crimes. That decision must be made by the Justice Department, led by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The department is conducting its own extensive investigation into the Jan. 6 events, but has not signaled whether it intends to impeach Trump, a decision that could have huge political ramifications as Trump weighs another candidacy for the presidency in 2024. The department did not respond to a request for comment.
ARE OTHER FEES POSSIBLE?
Though not mentioned in the committee's court filings, experts said there could be evidence Trump committed wire fraud or a seditious conspiracy.
Democrats said in a hearing last week that Republican Trump raised about $250 million from supporters to make fraudulent claims in court that he won the election but channeled much of the money elsewhere. This raises the possibility that he could be charged with wire fraud, which prohibits receiving money under "false or fraudulent pretenses," legal experts said.
"Did he know and intend that the money should really not be spent on an election protection fund but on other causes?" 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 groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, who were among the thousands of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, with seditious conspiracy, a rarely used law that makes the overthrow illegal the US government by force.
It would be a challenge for prosecutors to tie Trump to 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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