Trump under investigation for civil rights conspiracy in January 6 inquiry

Federal prosecutors say they have evidence to charge Trump with three crimes over efforts to overturn 2020 election

Federal prosecutors investigating Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results have evidence to charge the former president with three crimes, including section 241 of the US legal code that makes it unlawful to conspire to violate civil rights, two people familiar with the matter said.

The potential charges detailed in a target letter sent to Trump by prosecutors from the office of special counsel Jack Smith, who also charged Trump with retaining classified documents last month, was the clearest signal of an imminent indictment.

Prosecutors appear to have evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States based on the target letter, two statutes that the House select committee examining the January 6 Capitol attack issued criminal referrals for last year.

The target letter to Trump identified a previously unconsidered third charge, the sources said. That is section 241 of title 18 of the US code, which makes it unlawful to conspire to threaten or intimidate a person in the “free exercise” of any right or privilege under the “Constitution or laws of the United States”.

The statute, enacted to protect the civil rights of Black voters targeted by white supremacy groups after the US civil war, is unusual because it is typically used by prosecutors in law enforcement misconduct and hate crime prosecutions, though its use has expanded in recent years.

What the potential charges means for Trump is unclear.

Prosecutors have been examining various instances of Trump pressuring officials like his former vice-president Mike Pence, but Trump’s efforts to obstruct the transfer of power could also be construed as conspiring to defraud voters more generally.

The other two statutes, meanwhile, suggest a core part of the case against Trump is focused on the so-called fake electors scheme and the former president’s efforts to use the fake slates in a conspiracy to stop the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election win on 6 January 2021.

The target letter did not cite any seditious conspiracy, incitement of insurrection or deprivation of rights under color of law – other areas for which legal experts have suggested Trump could have legal risk.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the contents of the target letter, though a senior adviser to Trump did not dispute that section 241 was listed when reached late on Tuesday night.

The New York Times also reported the inclusion of the statute.

Trump, who is facing unprecedented legal peril as he leads the pack of candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, called the target letter “HORRIFYING NEWS” in a post on his Truth Social platform, where he first disclosed the development.

Last year, the House select committee that investigated the Capitol attack concluded that Trump committed multiple crimes in an attempt to reverse his 2020 defeat to Joe Biden, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of an official proceeding.

The committee issued symbolic criminal referrals to the justice department, although at that point the justice department had since stepped up its criminal investigation with the addition of new prosecutors in spring 2022 before they were folded into the special counsel’s office.

House investigators also concluded that there was evidence for prosecutors to charge Trump with conspiracy to defraud and obstruction of an official proceeding. They also issued referrals for incitement of insurrection, which was not listed in the target letter.

Should prosecutors charge Trump in the federal January 6 investigation, the case could go to trial much more quickly than the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case – before the 2024 election – because pre-trial proceedings would not be delayed by rules governing national security materials.

Trump was charged last month for retaining national security materials and obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them. Trump and his co-defendant, his valet Walt Nauta, who was charged with conspiring to obstruct and making false statements to the FBI, have both pleaded not guilty.

The target letter to Trump comes weeks before the Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, is expected to charge Trump and his allies for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state of Georgia, the Guardian has previously reported.


Hugo Lowell in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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