Legal scholar: Leaked possible Trump charges could "lead to a much faster conviction"

But Trump may be charged with more crimes just those mentioned in the target letter

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published July 19, 2023 11:13AM (EDT)

Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at the Turning Point Action USA conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, on July 15, 2023. (GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)
Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at the Turning Point Action USA conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, on July 15, 2023. (GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump announced on Truth Social that he had received a target letter from special counsel Jack Smith, implying that he could face criminal charges in connection to an investigation into the deadly Capitol riot and attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

Trump's latest run-in with federal prosecutors likely signals an impending indictment, which would be the third he has faced in recent months. Much of the probe has focused on Trump and his allies' efforts to stir sentiment amongst fervent MAGA supporters by publicly and falsely claiming that President Joe Biden had "stolen" the election, actions which catalyzed the frenzy leading to the Jan 6 siege in Washington, DC. 

Though the ex-president in his Tuesday post did not disclose which criminal charges he could be facing, a person familiar with the matter told The New York Times that the letter cited three potential statutes, including conspiracy to defraud the United States: corruptly obstructing an official proceeding, conspiring to defraud the government and to make false statements, and wire and mail fraud. 

After conducting a thorough investigation into the Capitol attacks, the House Jan. 6 Committee as well as a federal judge in California felt it was "more likely than not" that Trump intentionally attempted to obstruct the certification of Biden's victory, a crime which, if found guilty, could be punishable by up to 20 years of prison time. The Times reported that the legislation underpinning such punitive measures — Section 1512(c) of Title 18 — has already been used to prosecute rioters; however, Trump did not actively participate in the physical assault. Additionally, though Trump encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol and "fight like hell," he also requested that they do so "peacefully," a point that the Times noted Trump's legal team could underscore.  

The House Committee and the federal judge also stated that there was enough evidence to demonstrate that Trump conspired with others to defraud the government, a crime that could see an offender face up to five years in prison. The former president, along with various attorneys and allies, advanced claims of voter fraud despite the fact that he was informed his allegations were unsubstantiated. 

We need your help to stay independent

"The illegality of the plan was obvious," Judge David O. Carter wrote in a ruling in a civil suit last year. "Our nation was founded on the peaceful transition of power, epitomized by George Washington laying down his sword to make way for democratic elections. Ignoring this history, President Trump vigorously campaigned for the vice president to single-handedly determine the results of the 2020 election."

The Times reported the subpoenas issued by Smith and his team indicate that the special counsel is analyzing Trump's political action committee, Save America, for potential wire fraud after the PAC raised $250 million by telling donors it needed to secure funds to combat election fraud. The House Jan. 6 Committee also acknowledged how, only a day after the election took place, Trump and his inner circle repeatedly asked donors to send money to a defense fund and challenge election results in court. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti observed that it was "interesting" that he is reportedly not facing charges for "inciting an insurrection or making a false statement."

"Don't fret it," longtime Harvard legal scholar Laurence Tribe urged his Twitter followers, assuring them that the reason a potential indictment would not include all charges against Trump was likely a strategic choice by Smith. 

"If the indictment doesn't include all the crimes — including aiding and abetting insurrection — that Trump may have committed, the reason is likely to be a strategic judgment that less is more: a streamlined, narrow trial could lead to a much faster conviction."

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

MORE FROM Gabriella Ferrigine

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Donald Trump Jack Smith January 6 Joe Biden Laurence Tribe Politics Renato Mariotti