The newly unsealed indictment of former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday leveled four criminal counts against him over his efforts to stay in power after the 2020 election: a conspiracy to violate civil rights, a conspiracy to defraud the government, the corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding and a conspiracy to carry out such obstruction.
Here is a closer look at the charges.
One of the charges, a conspiracy to violate rights, is Section 241 of Title 18 of the United States Code. A conviction on this charge is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Congress enacted what is now Section 241 after the Civil War to go after Southern whites, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, who used terrorism to prevent formerly enslaved African Americans from voting. But in a series of 20th-century cases, the Supreme Court upheld expanding use of the statute to election-fraud conspiracies, like ballot-box stuffing.
In invoking the statute, the indictment frames it as “a conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.” Essentially, Mr. Smith has accused Mr. Trump of trying to rig the outcome of the election to falsely claim victory.
“The purpose of the conspiracy was to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the federal government function by which those results are collected, counted and certified,” the indictment said.
The indictment cites five means by which Mr. Trump and his accused co-conspirators sought to reverse the results of the election, including pushing state legislators and election officials to change electoral votes won by his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., in his favor instead.
“That is, on the pretext of baseless fraud claims, the defendant pushed officials in certain states to ignore the popular vote; disenfranchise millions of voters; dismiss legitimate electors; and ultimately, cause the ascertainment of and voting by illegitimate electors in favor of the defendant,” the indictment said.
It also cited the recruitment of fake electors in swing states won by Mr. Biden, trying to wield the power of the Justice Department to fuel lies about election conspiracy, and pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to delay the certification of the election or reject legitimate electors.
And when all that failed, it said, Mr. Trump and his co-conspirators “exploited” the violent disruption of the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, by “redoubling efforts to levy false claims of election fraud and convince members of Congress to further delay the certification based on those claims.”
The indictment, which recounts each of those episodes in detail, relies on the same basic facts for the other counts against Mr. Trump.
One of those, conspiracy to defraud the United States, involves Section 371. Any conviction on this charge is also punishable by up to five years in prison.
The possibility of this charge has long been part of the public discussion of the investigation. In March 2022, for example, a federal judge ruled that emails of John Eastman, a lawyer who advised Mr. Trump in the effort, were most likely involved in that crime and so qualified for an exemption from attorney-client privilege.
And the House committee investigating Jan. 6 recommended in its final report in December 2022 that the Justice Department charge Mr. Trump and others with this offense.
The third and fourth counts are closely related: corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy to commit that crime. Both are provisions of Section 1512. Any conviction under that statute is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors have already used this law to charge hundreds of people who participated in the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, accusing them of obstructing the joint session of Congress to certify Mr. Biden’s victory.
In April, a federal appeals court upheld the viability of applying that charge in relation to the Capitol attack, but using it against Mr. Trump may raise different issues since he did not personally participate in the riot.