With a third impeachment against Donald Trump now looking quite likely — this one involving his attempts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election — today’s bulletin will cover three big questions about the case.
One, what would be the specifics of such an accusation? Two, would an indictment include significant new evidence, or focus on information already known? Three, what are the chances that Trump will ever face prison time?
1. The specifics
Yesterday, Trump said he received a letter confirming he is a target in the federal investigation into his attempts to stay in power after the 2020 election, including any role in inciting the January 6 attacks. Such a letter is typically a sign of impending indictment, wrote my colleague Charlie Savage. Any charges will take months to work through the legal system.
On what grounds could Trump be impeached? Several possibilities exist: his attempts to prevent the congress of January 6, 2021; potential fraud related to fundraising; and efforts to recruit so-called bogus electors from states he narrowly lost. (Hours after Trump revealed the letter, Michigan authorities charged 16 people in the fraudulent election scheme.)
We only know a little bit about where prosecutors are focusing, and that information comes from the letter to Trump. It cited statutes that could be applied in a prosecution, including a possible charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States and a broad charge related to violation of rights.
2. New information?
Without seeing the evidence, experts aren’t sure how strong the case against Trump is. In the investigation into classified documents, investigators uncovered new evidence, including photos of documents in a bathroom at Trump’s Florida home and Trump suggesting in a recording that he knew he shouldn’t have the papers. So far, the public evidence surrounding Trump’s attempts to cling to power is less explicit.
Consider Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 riots: He made suggestive comments, including earlier that day at a rally in Washington. But none of them were express orders for an attack, and he later urged his supporters who had breached the Capitol to disperse.
Trump “is often both all over the place and yet somewhat careful not to cross certain lines,” said my colleague Maggie Haberman, who covers Trump. “At his rally on the Ellipse on January 6, he told people to go ‘peacefully and patriotically’ but also directed them to the Capitol with apocalyptic language about the election. Often, people around him understand the implications of words, even when he’s not straight.”
(He also tried to redo January 6 in a more positive light, Maggie explained.)
If investigators have evidence that more directly ties Trump to any potential charges, we’ll know in the coming days or weeks if an indictment is filed and made public.
3. The prison possibility
In addition to this case, Trump is already facing state charges in New York of falsifying business records to cover up potential sex scandals before the 2016 election as well as federal charges in the confidential documents case. And Trump may face separate state charges in Georgia for his attempts to stay in power; a local prosecutor is expected to announce a charging decision soon.
Any of these cases could lead to a conviction and prison time. Or Trump could beat the charges in court.
There is one other possibility that his advisers have suggested: He could win the 2024 election, perhaps by making it too difficult to imprison him or by allowing him to use the powers of the presidency to drop the federal investigations and charges.
“When he was charged in the documents investigation, his advisers were blunt that in their view, he must win the election as a defense against possible jail time,” Maggie wrote yesterday. “That only increases with an indictment related to Jan. 6 at the federal level.”
The circumstances put Trump’s presidential campaign in a different light. He is not running, as politicians usually do, just to push a political agenda, establish his legacy or gain power. He also runs for self-preservation.
The US has never faced this scenario. Experts are divided on whether and how Trump might act as president if he were sentenced to prison. No one knows for sure how America’s political and criminal justice systems would handle that outcome. As Jessica Levinson, an election law expert, told The Times, “I don’t think the cads ever thought we’d be in this situation.”
More on Trump
Some Republican presidential candidates have been more critical of Trump than they were before his earlier legal troubles. “We cannot continue to deal with this drama,” Nikki Haley said.
Other primary rivals remained more silent. Ron DeSantis said Trump “should have come out stronger” against the Jan. 6 rioters, but added, “I hope he doesn’t get indicted.”
The judge overseeing the classified documents case expressed skepticism about prosecutors’ request to start the trial as soon as December and about Trump’s desire to delay it until after the presidential election.
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